Initially it seemed like a true story. A blogger reports on a lecture given by an advisor to the Republican presidential nominee making outrageously radical statements. It should have raised some eyebrows but it didn't. The blog starts with the story quoting Carnegie endowment fellow Robert Magen's talk at New York University, saying that the Republican presumptive nominee plans to declare the Kingdom of Jordan as the Palestinian state. The report was so cleverly written that it included a supposed Jordanian student of Palestinian origin complaining during the lecture that was supposedly attended by thousands of student and faculty.
Jordanian web sites and bloggers were among the first to notice the story. With a click of their mouse the story written in Arabic is pasted on the popular web sites and within 24 hours major Jordanian newspapers repeat the details of the lecture. Jordanian politicians, parliamentarians, union members and even the Jordanian Bar Association put out press statements and denounce the anti Arab republican leader.
This supposed lecture, however, never took place. Megan was in Brussels not in New York and when reached by Carnegie and the Jordanian Embassy in Washington he denied having lectured or made the controversial statement.
What is strange is that it took nearly 48 hours before this storm to begin to subside. The atmosphere in the Middle East has been so fragile, the nerves so raw that a story on a weird radical Israeli web site is taken as the truth without question. No one knows who owns this strange blog that is called filkaisrael. Although it has many stories in Arabic, their about us section states clearly that their mission is "the destruction of the Kingdom of Jordan and replacing it with greater Palestine."
Jordanians, Palestinians and many other Arabs are so suspicious of America's foreign policy that they were quick to believe the fabrication peddled as news. Even the government owned daily newspaper Al Rai was caught up with the fabrication, ran an editorial opposing the statement. In a front page interview the Jordanian paper of record (and its sister English language publication Jordan Times) published an interview with King Abdullah II insisting the Jordan is Jordan and Palestine is Palestine, even though the King is known to be a personal friend of McCain. Ironically, even after the Jordanian embassy issued a statement denying that the lecture had even taken place, very little attention was given to the public denial.
The Jordan is Palestine theory had been espoused by right wing Israelis in the 80s but was publicly rejected by Likud leader Ariel Sharon when he became prime minister. Only ideological settlers and the ultra right wing Moledet party (which calls for the transfer of Palestinians) still supports this ethnic cleansing plan.
The fragility of the situation in the Middle East has created a skeptical population that can believe almost any story. While Arabs have little faith in America's foreign policy they brace themselves ever election campaign. This year things were no different as America's foreign policy watchers had become used to American political one upmanship. The season had began with anti-Iran military rhetoric and included a surprise statement by the Democratic nominee. Anyone with any hope about change in the US policy to the Middle East were in for a setback when presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama publicly took sides and prejudged the results of the negotiations in Jerusalem in favor of the Israelis.
While the natural lesson of this incident is that internet based news should be scrutinized before being published, a more important lesson is that in the Middle East, nothing coming out of the US election's campaign will surprise anyone.
Daoud Kuttab an award winning Palestinian journalist is the Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. His email is email@example.com