“Is this the stand of the opposition Pakatan (Rakyat) coalition, when the government does not even have diplomatic relations with Israel,” the deputy prime minister was quoted as saying in the report.
“The Barisan Nasional regrets this statement by Anwar,” Muhyiddin added, saying the opposition leader’s remarks appeared to ignore the plight of the Palestinians.
Earlier today, Umno Youth accused Anwar of defending “Israel’s Zionist regime” over his reported remarks, saying it was Palestinians who needed protection, defending and humanitarian aid after being oppressed by Israel.
Muslim-majority Malaysia is an ardent supporter of Palestine and has no diplomatic ties with Israel.
Muslim politicians have long vied for support from Malays by denouncing what they say is inhumane aggression from Israel towards its neighbour.
Anwar has previously been attacked as a supporter of the Zionist movement due to his interaction with prominent Jewish figures in the West.
But the opposition leader had turned the tables on BN in 2010 when he claimed public relations firm APCO Worldwide, then contracted by Putrajaya, was responsible for both the 1 Malaysia and 1 Israel campaigns.
Malaysian Defence Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi revealed yesterday that he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Franceexplained Malaysia’s stand on the West Asian issue.Stressing that it was at Netanyahu’s request, he said the Israeli leader had agreed to the conditions that he (Zahid) had insisted on prior to the meeting, which was held during the Paris Air Show]“I said that if he wanted to have a meeting with me, he should not bring along any Israeli aide or photographer and he should not indulge in double standards, and he agreed,[/b]” Dr Ahmad Zahid told Malaysian reporters here. He is on a six-day visit to Lebanon.Zahid said that at their meeting of 35 minutes, he stated that if Israel was sincere about establishing peace in West Asia, it should recognise the Palestinian government.“If Israel wants to extend a hand to establish peace, it must not resort to violence against the people of Palestine and neighbouring countries,” he said.Zahid said Malaysia always stood by countries such as Lebanon, Syria and Palestine in their attempts to stop the Israeli atrocities.He also said that Lebanon has listed Malaysia as a supplier for its military modernisation programme next year.Lebanese Defence Minister Elias Al-Murr made the commitment when Zahid made a courtesy call at his residence here today.“Military assets (weapons and logistics) produced by Malaysia have been tested and found suitable for use by the Lebanese Armed Forces as they suit the climate here,” he told Malaysian reporters here today.
Zahid said he would study the country’s capability in supplying military equipments to Lebanon and ask the defence industry to be prepared.
Lebanon has been promised aid by alliance countries aimed at modernising its military assets, but not for war.
He added the sale of equipment to Lebanon would not be a problem for Malaysia as it only involved ordinary military equipment, not offensive weapons.Zahid is in Lebanon to give moral support to over 340 Malaysian peacekeepers serving with Malcon West 2 under the United Nations (UN)flag to ensure peace at the Lebanon-Israel border.– Bernama
wowww…netanyahu mintak jumpa, zahid letak syarat, netanyahu akur dgn syarat zahid….WOWWWW….;P
(aku harap media2 alternatif tidak labelkan zahid ejen israel…:P)
- Israeli police cracking down on the demonstrators
- Photo: Brady Ng
- Holding back the demonstrators
- Photo: Brady Ng
- As the demonstration continued through the afternoon, the israeli police called for reinforcement for crowd control
- Photo: Brady Ng
“The police are calling us outlaws and anarchists, despite the fact that the crowd here is mostly composed of professors from UITM
- Israeli police clear a path LOCALS who are entering
WAS A STRAIGHTFORWARD COLONIAL AGENDA IN WHICH EUROPEAN SETTLERS WOULD EVICT INDIGENOUS THIRD WORLD PEOPLE FROM THEIR LAND AND TAKE IT OVER. GANDHI SAW THIS VERY CLEARLY, WHICH IS WHY HE REFUSED TO GIVE THE ZIONISTS HIS SUPPORT WHEN THEY APPROACHED HIM
Although this appeared normal on the surface, the letter however claimed that in May 2008, a report from the Special Branch director confirmed the involvement of two former Israeli intelligence officers in the PRS project.
By Rahmah Ghazali, Free Malaysia Today
Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim launched another “Israel-link” salvo in the Dewan Rakyat today.
According to him, the Israeli military intelligence had been involved in the police technology park in Bukit Aman since two years ago.
During the supplementary bill debate, the Permatang Pauh MP claimed that Inspector-General of Police Musa Hassan had admitted this in a statement.
He quoted Musa as saying in a news report last year, “Police were aware of the involvement of the Israelis in the communications upgrading system. We informed the home ministry as soon as we learnt about it.”
To back his claim, Anwar also produced several letters which he said were from the senior police officers, namely the police chief, head of logistics and the Special Branch director.
The opposition leader said in October 2008, Lim Kit Siang (DAP-Ipoh Timor) had raised the same issue in the House “but this was brushed aside by the home minister then”.
“Then between November and December (of the same year), a report was lodged by police officers and the case was investigated by one ASP Sairah. Then Sairah was transferred to Taiping and there was no news after that,” he said.
Anwar added that on Nov 25, 2008, the then home minister (Syed Hamid Albar) held a special briefing at the VIP room at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
The briefing, he said, was regarding the alleged involvement of Israeli intelligence in the information technology division of the second and third floors of the Bukit Aman police headquarters.
The Star had reported this matter back in 2008. Johari Ismail of Umno Johor also made a polcie report at the Dang Wangi Police Station
By LOURDES CHARLES, The Star, 5 August 2008
The Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) is investigating how a little-known IT company with little experience became the local partner in the RM1bil project to upgrade the Royal Malaysian Police’s communication systems from analogue-based to digital.
The project has since been scaled down.
According to sources, the ACA was also probing how a Singapore-based company, several of whose directors are Israeli nationals, was awarded a slice of the project when it was against the Government’s directive to do so.
The Israelis are said to be former officers in the Israeli Air Force.
The upgrading of the communications system would enable traffic policemen, those in mobile patrol vehicles and beat-duty policemen to communicate with each other and with their control centres.
The sources said the authorities had begun their preliminary inquiries into the companies to ascertain whether there was any irregularity in the awarding of the project and whether they could pose a security risk.
They said the ACA would call up several people, including police officers and senior government officials to assist in investigations following allegations that the company does not possess the requisite expertise.
It is learnt the Home Ministry had first awarded the RM980mil upgrading project to a well-known multi-national company in February.
However, in March, the company was informed that a local IT company had been appointed as local partner for the project, causing eyebrows to be raised.
With the latest development, sources said the IT company’s involvement in the project has since been limited to enable further discussions on the matter.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan said police were aware of the involvement of the Israelis in their communications systems upgrading project.
“We informed the Home Ministry as soon as we learnt about it,” he said, declining to elaborate.
It is learnt that the Government has decided to scale down the project for the time being and had only approved its first phase, estimated to cost around RM42mil.
The IGP had last October announced that the police planned to equip their personnel with hand-held computers, and micro-cameras fitted into walkie-talkies, as part of a massive plan to beef up the force’s capability.
He had said the police wanted to use such high-tech devices and set up a network of camera surveillance systems to fight crime more effectively.
Musa said the force needed to have an e-solution system that would enable them to communicate with police helicopters, airplanes and marine police as well as with their mobile police vehicles.
“The Bukit Aman control centre will use the latest high-tech devices and communication systems to relay, monitor and coordinate operations throughout the country,” he said.
Early Attempts at Diplomatic Relations
The hostility of Indonesia, which characterized Malaysia as a neocolonialist creation dependent on British bayonets, prompted Malaysia’s leaders to take steps to improve its image, especially in the Afro-Asian world. Approaches to the Arab countries came at the expense of relations with Israel. To win Arab and especially Egyptian sympathy, Malaysia developed a policy of “Muslim solidarity” and made every effort to appear as a Muslim country, especially from 1965 onward. Meanwhile, various Malaysian figures made anti-Israeli declarations and opposed Israel in both bilateral and international contexts.
The first Israeli-Malayan political contact came when Moshe Sharett visited Kuala Lumpur in 1956 as part of his trip to Asia. Sharett had been Israel’s first foreign minister and also prime minister for a time, and he toured Asia under the sponsorship of the Foreign Ministry. “The Tunku” (Abdul Rahman’s princely title) was then chief minister and was expected to serve as prime minister after the granting of independence, which was scheduled for the following year.
Sharett met with the Tunku on 14 October 1956. Sharett suggested that an Israeli consul be appointed in Kuala Lumpur and, after independence, be elevated to ambassadorial level. According to Sharett, the Tunku’s response was “favorable without hesitation” and he said he “welcomes the proposal with pleasure.” The Tunku also said, however, that the idea had to be approved by the British Foreign Office, which was responsible for foreign relations until independence. Before their parting, the Tunku reiterated his own approval and said, “It will be considered an honor for us to have a diplomatic representative from Israel.”3
Only on 13 February 1957 did the Asian and African Division of the Israeli Foreign Ministry instruct Israel’s ambassador in London to approach the British Foreign Office for approval to open a consulate in Malaya. When the British asked the Malays about it, they did not reply promptly but apparently were negatively inclined.
On 13 August, the British Foreign Office advised the Israeli ambassador to wait until Malaya’s independence on 31 August and directly ask the new government. On 26 August, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion sent a congratulatory letter to the Tunku and told him Israel was ready to establish “appropriate representation” in Kuala Lumpur. Israel also voted to accept Malaya in the United Nations. On 23 December, a member of Malaya’s UN delegation told a member of the Israeli delegation that Malaya recognized Israel but had no intention of establishing diplomatic ties with it.
On 10 November 1959 the Israeli envoy to Australia, Moshe Yuval, reported that he had met the day before with the Tunku during the latter’s visit to Australia. Among other things, the Tunku told him: “I remember my conversation with Mr. Sharett. The leadership of Malaya knows the character of Israel very well, but the Muslim masses in our country are opposed to you. Therefore, we cannot establish diplomatic relations with you.” Concurrently, the Tunku promised Arab governments that Malaya would not open formal ties with Israel, and this was reported in Jordanian newspapers.4
In August 1960, a new opportunity arose to convey a message to the Malayan government. Because of expense, the Israel Football Association was unable to send a representative to a conference of the Asian Football Federation in Kuala Lampur, of which Israel was a member and the Tunku was president. The Israel Football Association requested that the Foreign Ministry dispatch someone to Kuala Lumpur from a nearby embassy. The Foreign Ministry decided to send this author, then serving as the second secretary in Rangoon, Burma (now Myanmar).
In the course of a conversation with the Tunku, he explained that establishing diplomatic relations with Israel would give the opposition radical-Islamic political party ammunition to weaken the government.5 Nevertheless, the warm hospitality and expression of goodwill by the Tunku and other major Malay figures raised the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s hope that Malaya would not rebuff various Israeli attempts at contacts, eventually laying the groundwork for diplomatic ties. One idea was to open a consulate in Singapore, then a separate British Crown Colony, that would handle affairs concerning nearby Malaya.6
In November 1961, the Tunku visited London. Israeli ambassador Arthur Lurie met with him on 25 November. Lurie expressed Israel’s disappointment at the lack of diplomatic ties and suggested beginning by appointing a lower-level representative such as a consul. The Tunku responded that pro-Arab groups strongly opposed Malaya recognizing Israel, and that the Arab countries, especially Egypt, pressured Malaya in this regard. He said he would welcome, however, the development of commercial relations and suggested opening a consulate in Singapore, which was then the center of Malayan commercial activity.
The Israeli commercial company Astraco, which had branches in other Asian countries, had earlier opened an office in Singapore. In March 1963, the Malayan Foreign Ministry granted it a license to open a branch, known as Interasia, in Kuala Lumpur.7
The Federation of Malaysia was formally established on 16 September 1963. Israeli foreign minister Golda Meir sent the Tunku a congratulatory telegram.8
Early in 1964, less than a year after opening the office in Kuala Lumpur, Astraco decided that it had no economic justification and the Singapore office could handle commerce with Malaya. The head of the company conveyed this to the director of the Asian and African Division of the Foreign Ministry. The question arose as to whether it was worth continuing the office in any way possible so as to maintain an Israeli presence in Kuala Lumpur. A Foreign Ministry official could be sent to manage the Interasia branch and attempt to promote relations between the two countries. The present author volunteered for this assignment.
At the end of May 1964, the Tunku’s closest friend and football entrepreneur Lim Kee Siong arrived in Israel as the Asian football tournament was being held there. This author presented him with a letter to the Tunku stating, among other things, this author’s intention to come to Malaysia. Lim Kee Siong also met with Foreign Minister Meir. He told her that the Tunku and the Malaysians in general felt friendship toward Israel, but Arab pressure and the need for support in Malaysia’s conflict with Indonesia, which opposed Malaysia’s creation, prevented setting up diplomatic ties with Israel.
Meir replied that Malaysia being a Muslim country did not justify the lack of diplomatic relations with Israel and mentioned the examples of Nigeria, Chad, and other African Muslim countries. She asked Lim Kee Siong to convey to the Tunku that Israel was interested in full diplomatic relations or, at least, the gradual development of ties between the two countries.
On 18 July 1964, the director-general of the Malaysian Foreign Ministry, Zaitun Ibrahim, visited the Israeli ambassador in Bangkok, Yehiel Ilsar, who was an old acquaintance. Zaitun Ibrahim, too, said there was great friendliness toward Israel in Malaysia but also opposition because of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Tunku had to take into account the hostility toward Malaysian-Israeli ties in the opposition parties, and in his own party as well. Malaysia, furthermore, needed all the support it could garner from Islamic and Arab countries.
At the start of August 1964, the Tunku gave a lecture to the Foreign Affairs Council in New York. When a listener asked about Malaysian-Israeli relations, the Tunku responded that Malaysia was involved in a bitter struggle with Muslim Indonesia and could not expose itself to the criticism and pressure that would result from improving ties with Israel. Nevertheless, Malaysia maintained a favorable attitude toward Israel and he himself had made special efforts to clarify this to Israeli representatives in various countries.
This author was in Kuala Lumpur from November 1964 to January 1966-outwardly, as head of an Israeli commercial concern and not as a diplomat. However, the Malaysian government understood the real nature of the mission. During this period the author met with the Tunku, the interior minister, the permanent secretary of the Foreign Ministry, and with the secretary of the Department of Culture, Youth and Sport, all of whom were Muslims, and with other ministers who were Chinese and Indian.
At this time Israel made concerted efforts to further relations with Malaysia, which failed for two main reasons. First, it was too late; Malaysia, as noted, was already trying to marshal Arab support in its struggle with Indonesia and wanted to strengthen ties with the Arab world. Second, the Israeli Foreign Ministry dealt with the matter carelessly and sporadically.9 Three forces pressured the Malaysian government to expel this author from Kuala Lumpur and terminate the Israeli presence in Malaysia: the Islamic opposition party, the Egyptian embassy, and the British High Commission. The Foreign Office in London and the High Commission in Kuala Lumpur took pains to conceal their attitude from Israel.10
Malaysia’s Growing Antagonism
In the wake of the Conference of Nonaligned Nations in October 1964, Malaysia wanted all the more to be accepted among the Afro-Asian countries. By 1965, its attitude toward Israel was increasingly antagonistic. Its diplomats avoided Israeli counterparts, and it refused to grant entry permits to Israelis, engaged in anti-Israeli initiatives at the United Nations, and made belligerently anti-Israeli, sometimes even anti-Semitic, declarations in the United Nations, international agencies, and so on. In 1965, four Malaysians participated in courses at the Afro-Asian Institute in Israel, and another came to Israel for an advanced course on education. From 1966, no more Malaysians came to Israel for studies.
In the parliament in Kuala Lumpur on 23 August 1966, the Tunku stated that Malaysia did not recognize Israel. He even berated Singapore, which by then was independent, for having Israeli advisers, and compared Singapore’s status in Southeast Asia as an enclave surrounded by Muslim Malaysia and Indonesia to that of Israel surrounded by Arab countries. As of January 1968, Israeli seamen arriving at Malaysian ports were forbidden to disembark from their ships. In 1974, trade with Israel and the granting of entry permits to Israelis were completely prohibited.
Five years after Malaya’s independence, it had diplomatic relations only with Egypt and Saudi Arabia among the Arab countries. After 1967 this increased, and by 1991 Malaysia had relations with all of them.11
Nevertheless, impromptu interactions with Israel continued. In August 1968 Abd al-Rahman, a businessman and son of the Tunku, came to Israel on the initiative of and accompanied by the Israeli entrepreneur Shaul Eisenberg. Abd al-Rahman represented a Malaysian lumber company and met with people in that field during his visit. In November 1969, Malaysian representatives of the Asian Sports Federation asked their Israeli colleagues to support Malaysia’s bid to host the Asia Games in 1974. They claimed that the Tunku was obligated to prevent discrimination of the kind that occurred when Israel was not invited to the Asian Games in Jakarta in 1962.12
The Tunku retired as prime minister in 1971 and was appointed the head secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). From 1971 to 1981, two Malaysian prime ministers continued the policy toward Israel but took no particular interest in the Jewish state. The situation changed when Dr. Dato Mahathir bin Muhamad was elected prime minister on 1 July 1981. Mahathir introduced a different style. His book The Malay Dilemma, written in 1969 in the wake of Malay-Chinese riots, manifests his racist outlook. In this generally anti-Chinese work, Mahathir maintained that races are distinguished not only by ethnic origin but also by many other characteristics. The Jews, for example, not only have hooked noses but also an instinctive understanding of finances. Sale of the book was banned in Malaysia, and Mahathir was temporarily expelled from the ruling Malay political party.
A short time later, he was reinstated and intensified his political activity, eventually becoming education minister and later prime minister. A radical Muslim, Mahathir was severely anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic and gave Malaysia’s foreign policy a new tone toward Israel and in general.13
An Anti-Semitic Prime Minister
During Mahathir’s years as prime minister he made extreme anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic statements, some of which achieved wide resonance. Mahathir nurtured anti-Semitism in a Malaysia that was without Jews. On 27 January 1981, in a speech in Saudi Arabia, he urged regaining the Palestinian lands by force since Israel was not invincible. He also, as will be discussed, vilified Israel at major venues.
In June 1983, Mahathir issued a statement attacking Israel for its incursion into Lebanon and calling it “the most immoral country in the world.” In October 1983, at the OIC’s Sixth Conference on Palestine held in New York, Malaysia expressed concern about Israel’s renewed activities in Africa and called for their immediate halt. Malaysia opposed establishing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and supported the resolution at the Jerusalem Conference of the OIC (New York, April 1984) to sever ties with any country that moved its ambassador to Jerusalem.
Malaysia supported the PLO more strongly than did any other Southeast Asian country. In 1969, Malaysia was the first Asian country to permit Fatah to open an office in its capital, which in 1974 became a PLO office. In August 1982, under Mahathir, this office was given full diplomatic recognition. Malaysia’s foreign minister claimed that Israel should recognize the PLO before demanding that it recognize Israel. In May 1983, Malaysia hosted a conference on the Palestine question with UN funding and expressed anti-Israeli propaganda in its media. Yasser Arafat, paying an official visit to Malaysia in July 1984, was received by the king and spoke to a large audience.14
In August 1984, a visit to Kuala Lumpur by the New York Philharmonic was canceled because of the Malaysian information minister’s demand that a work by the Swiss Jewish composer Ernst Bloch be removed from the program. The minister’s statement on the matter included anti-Semitic expressions.
From 1983 onward, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was published and disseminated in Malaysia. On 12 August 1983, Mahathir asserted in a speech to the Malaysian Press Club that Jews and Zionists controlled the international media. He repeated this charge four days later and added that the journalists working for foreign newspapers under Jewish control were trying to destabilize Malaysia through distorted reports. He called the Wall Street Journal a Jewish tool.
In a speech in September 1986 at the summit of the Nonaligned Nations in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, Mahathir complained that the Jews’ exile two thousand years ago and their persecution under the Nazis had not taught them anything. On the contrary, these persecutions had turned them into the very monsters they vilified in their own propaganda; they had become the gifted students of Goebbels.
In another speech to the Malaysian parliament on 10 October 1986, Mahathir referred to attempts by Zionists to use Malaysian individuals and groups to damage the country’s economy. He also blamed the “Zionist press” in Western countries for the low level of American investment in Malaysia. He often attacked the New York Times and the Asian Wall Street Journal as Zionist publications.15
Israeli president Chaim Herzog’s visit to Singapore in November 1986 evoked harsh Malaysian reactions including bitter condemnations of Israel and Zionism. There were calls to cut off Singapore’s water supply and burn its flag.16
Mahathir and Malaysian diplomatic representatives made constant belligerent speeches about Israel, often condemning it for causing suffering to the Palestinians. In 1992, Malaysia denied entry to a delegate from Israel’s El Al airlines for the International Flight Conference in Kuala Lumpur. In December that year, it denied entry to an Israeli football player on the Liverpool team, and the team canceled its visit to Malaysia.
In March 1994, Mahathir prohibited the screening of Steven Spielberg’s movie Schindler’s List on the ground that it was an anti-German propaganda film aimed at winning support for Jews and contained too much violence. When this evoked protests in the United States and Australia, the Malaysia cabinet canceled the prohibition against the film but required that seven scenes with violence or sex be cut. Spielberg, however, insisted that the film be shown in its entirety or not at all. In the end, it was decided to remove all his films from Malaysia.17
Early in 1992, Israel began normalizing its relations with China, India, and other Asian countries. This drew its Foreign Ministry’s attention to the Muslim countries in Asia. The view regarding Malaysia was that Mahathir was an anti-Semite and there was no chance of changing his country’s hostile policy so long as he was prime minister.
The Oslo Era
The signing of the Israeli-PLO Declaration of Principles on 20 August 1993 brought Mahathir to lower his tone. Malaysia’s deputy foreign minister announced in parliament that Malaysia welcomed the Israeli-PLO agreement. Mahathir, on a different occasion, said Malaysia would consider diplomatic relations with Israel, but first Israel had to do more to bring peace to the Middle East. He expressed hope that Israelis and Palestinians could now live in peace and that all Palestinian land would be returned, and pointed out that the future status of Jerusalem remained unresolved.
The deputy minister of international trade and industry said Malaysia aimed to penetrate the Israeli market as soon as the two countries set up diplomatic relations; meanwhile, the trade and economic sanctions against Israel would continue. The foreign minister said Malaysia would pledge $5 million to help the Palestinians govern Gaza and Jericho, would help them develop the infrastructure in areas evacuated by Israel, and would provide technical assistance in the administrative and police domains. The PLO ambassador to Malaysia claimed it was the first country to offer assistance to the PLO after the signing of the agreement with Israel.
On 28 December 1993, however, Mahathir announced at a press conference that Malaysia was not yet ready to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. By then several Gulf states had done so, but Malaysia’s stance was that Israel still had much to do. For example, Israel had not announced its acceptance of a Palestinian state or that it would cease “terrorist activities” even as the Palestinians were asked to end their own terror tactics.18
On 14 July 1994, the brother of the king of Malaysia, Tunku Abdallah bin Tunku abd Al-Rahman, paid a private visit to Israel. He was the chairman of a consortium of commercial and investment companies. Among others, Tunku Abdallah met with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. When the visit was made known in Malaysia, Mahathir denied that the government had arranged it or that Tunku Abdallah was on a diplomatic mission. He said he did not know about the trip and believed it was strictly for business.
On returning to Kuala Lumpur on 16 July, Tunku Abdallah said his visit was entirely private and aimed at checking the feasibility of opening commercial relations in tourism and technology, and this was in the framework of his trip to Europe. He claimed Israel had exploited his visit for political advantage since he was the king’s brother, and that his meetings with Rabin and Peres were of a social nature only. He apologized to all those who were offended by the visit. Nevertheless, the justice minister threatened that the police would investigate Tunku Abdallah and confiscate his passport for breaking the law by visiting Israel.19
While the Malaysia government and media were occupied with Tunku Abdallah’s visit, Mahathir announced that Rabin had written to him to suggest establishing diplomatic relations in light of the improved Israeli-PLO ties. Mahathir had replied, he said, that Malaysia opposed such relations until Israel and the PLO resolved all the remaining issues between them. He told the press, moreover, that he was not convinced of Israel’s sincerity in its peace talks with the PLO, since “Israel continues to humiliate the Palestinians and has no intention of returning Jerusalem to them.” Although Rabin believed this was the right time to advance relations with the Asian Muslim countries, his overture to Mahathir was merely tentative.
Meanwhile, Malaysia had no intention to revoke its trade embargo with Israel. In a visit to Jordan on 9 October 1994, Mahathir explained at a press conference that Malaysia would decide whether to recognize Israel only after it signed peace treaties with all the Arab countries and fulfilled all the Arab demands including with respect to Jerusalem.20
At that time there were indications that Malaysia had changed its approach to Israel in some areas relating to economics. During 1994, a small number of Israelis were allowed to enter Malaysia to attend international conferences on various topics. Specifically, in December that year Malaysia granted entry permits to eight Israelis who came to participate in a conference on fertilizers.21
On 24 October that year, Malaysia permitted Malaysian Muslims to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem but not to visit other places in Israel. The pilgrims could enter Israel only through Jordan and stay no longer than two weeks. In announcing this, the deputy foreign minister said there was no change in Malaysia’s policy toward Israel despite its attempts to make peace with Arab countries and the PLO.
When this was made public, Christian groups in Malaysia asked for a similar arrangement. The foreign minister approved their request on 10 November. Shortly thereafter, the president of Malaysia’s travel-agent association met with the commerce and tourism attachés at the Israeli embassy in Singapore to work out details for Malaysian tourism to Jerusalem. During 1-5 January 1995, a delegation of Malaysian travel agents visited Israel.22 In that year, a Malaysian delegation took part in an economic conference in Casablanca in which Israel also participated, and in a continuation of the conference in Amman, and El Al and the Malaysian national airline signed an air-traffic agreement.
Furthermore, in late May 1995 a Malaysian television crew visited Israel. On 18 June, the program it filmed there was broadcast on Malaysian television. It included an interview with, among others, the then Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert. Israeli songs were heard in the background.23
The picture was more complex regarding commercial relations. On 17 September 1994, Malaysian customs authorities impounded a shipment of 24,000 tons of fertilizer on the suspicion that it originated in Israel, from which imports were illegal. However, Malaysia began to suspect that there was a counterboycott on selling Malaysian products by Jewish businessmen in various countries. In mid-January 1996, Malaysia’s minister of international trade and industry announced that his ministry was exploring the possibility of gradually instituting commercial relations with Israel. He added, however, that such trade would have no political significance. “It will be like with Taiwan. We do not have diplomatic relations with her but there are numerous commercial relations.”
In a visit to New Delhi in January 1996, Israel’s then finance minister Avraham Shochat said he looked forward to diplomatic relations with Malaysia and Indonesia in the near future. The director-general of Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry responded by saying Malaysia was in no hurry to have diplomatic ties with Israel, repeating what Mahathir had said a few days earlier.24
An Ongoing Coolness
Revealing misplaced enthusiasm, the director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Industry and Trade, Yosi Snir, requested clarification from Malaysia on the issue of permitting economic relations with Israel. Only upon receiving a response, he explained, would his ministry remove Malaysia from the list of countries from which imports were forbidden. In addition, the spokesperson for the Israel embassy in Singapore said Israel looked forward to Malaysia taking steps to normalize commercial and diplomatic relations with Israel.25
Apparently, Malaysia did not respond to the Israeli feelers. In mid-February 1996, however, a Malaysian businessman visited Israel to discuss cooperation between Israeli and Malaysian companies. In late March a delegation of Malaysian businessmen came to Israel and held talks with heads of chambers of commerce. Although Malaysia’s official boycott of Israeli products still stood, the head of the Malaysian delegation said he had been authorized by the minister of industry and trade. In early May the Israeli Port Authority sponsored an international conference, and a sixteen-member Malaysian delegation attended with government approval.
These developments, along with Malaysia’s change of policy in granting entry permits to Israelis, created an expectation that Malaysia was about to open an economic interest office in Tel Aviv.26 In June 1996, the parliamentary secretary of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry announced in parliament that his ministry was considering sending an official commercial mission to Israel. The Malaysian foreign minister added that future commercial relations with Israel depended on the efforts of the new Israeli government, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, to achieve peace. In October 1996, the Malaysian bank Public Bank Bhd. established direct relations with Israel’s Bank Hapoalim to enable commercial firms in both countries to make direct financial transactions. Malaysia’s deputy finance minister announced that Israeli businessmen would be permitted to invest in Malaysia.27
In light of these developments, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) in New York decided to urge Malaysian leaders to speed up establishing diplomatic relations with Israel. Several meetings were held with Malaysian representatives to the United Nations and with Malaysia’s deputy prime minister, but these did not lead to any positive outcomes.
In 1997, Malaysia took two small steps in the area of youth and sports. During 3-16 March, an Israeli youth delegation made up of fourteen high school students of both sexes visited Malaysia. It was said that Mahathir himself was behind the initiative. The students visited two schools and met with the education minister and other senior government officials. This visit did not arouse public interest.
Yet when an Israeli cricket team arrived a few days later to take part in an international tournament, demonstrations by Muslims and students erupted in which Israeli flags were burned. To achieve calm, the foreign minister quickly declared in parliament that Malaysia had no intention to establish diplomatic relations with Israel “until Tel Aviv honors its obligations according to the peace treaty it signed with the Palestinians.”28
Mahathir had made the same point at a press conference in New York late in September 1996. Moreover, in reaction to the violence that had erupted over Israel’s opening of a tunnel at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, he accused the new Netanyahu government of trying to retreat from the agreements signed by the Rabin government. Mahathir said the opening of the tunnel was a provocation and an assault on the sanctity of the Al-Aksa Mosque. Speaking at the UN General Assembly at that time, Malaysia’s foreign minister said Israel’s attempt to make Jerusalem its capital was illegal, and that Malaysia supported the Palestinians’ aspirations for self-determination in their own state.29
In July 1997, when Malaysia faced a severe economic crisis, Mahathir was convinced it was caused by the Jewish financier George Soros. It seems Soros’s dealing in Malaysian currency harmed the country’s economy, and the reports in Malaysian newspapers were full of anti-Semitic innuendos. Mahathir tried to explain this: “We are not anti-Semites. The Arabs are also Semites. Just as people make a connection between Islam, Muslims and terrorism, there are people in this country who are inclined to connect [dealing in foreign currency] with Jews. . . . I think that most Jews are innocent, but the impression is that the Jews have a lot of money. They know how to manipulate money. . . . “
In October 1997 when the crisis worsened, Mahathir continued his anti-Semitic rhetoric. He referred in a speech to the “international Jewish conspiracy” and to his government’s fears that the Jews planned to destroy Malaysia’s and other Muslim countries’ economies.30
American Jewish organizations reacted. The JCRC sent a letter of protest on Mahathir’s comments to Malaysia’s UN representatives. Jewish leaders in New York met with Malaysian diplomats and with the Malaysian deputy prime minister and finance minister, Anwar Ibrahim, who was visiting the city. The Malaysians tried to explain that Mahathir was prone to outbursts and did not heed advice from anyone, but was not an anti-Semite. Anwar Ibrahim, however, said Mahathir sincerely believed in the “international Jewish plot.” Shortly thereafter Mahathir fired Anwar Ibrahim, who was tried for corruption and sexual offenses and given a long sentence.
The Jewish leaders demanded that Malaysia establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. The Malaysian UN ambassador and Anwar Ibrahim explained that Malaysia supported Palestinian rights and censured the Netanyahu government. The time was not right to continue working to improve relations, and Malaysia was not ready for normalization.
Additional Jewish organizations condemned Mahathir as an anti-Semite, as did the U.S. State Department. The World Jewish Congress announced that it would file a complaint with the UN Council on Human Rights in Geneva. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning Mahathir for his anti-Semitic remarks.
Mahathir, however, rejected all criticism and did not apologize. The only step taken was an official Malaysian letter, not from Mahathir himself, to the UN Council on Human Rights claiming that Mahathir was incorrectly quoted in the media and “never intended to insult Jews or cause them distress.” Whereas the World Jewish Congress praised the letter and considered the incident closed, Israel did not see it as an adequate apology.
On 21 June 2003, officials of Mahathir’s political party distributed copies of Henry Ford’s anti-Semitic book The International Jew to delegates at their annual assembly, where Mahathir delivered a speech. On 16 October that year at a meeting of the OIC in Kuala Lumpur, two weeks before stepping down as prime minister, Mahathir delivered an anti-Semitic diatribe, saying among other things that “the Jews rule the world.” Although many countries outside the OIC objected, he did not retract. The Egyptian foreign minister and other Muslim figures praised his remarks and supported him.31
Nevertheless, during these years the signs of a thaw continued. In 1998 a Malaysian, for the first time since 1965, took a course on community development in Israel.32 In February 2000 two Israeli teams, male and female, participated in a ping pong tournament in Malaysia. The opposition Muslim political party warned the government of “undesirable consequences” and claimed Israel was an “illegal country.” The minister of sport responded that Malaysia could not discriminate against any country if it wished to hold international sport competitions and especially if it wanted to host the Asia Games in 2006. He affirmed that Malaysia’s view of Israel as oppressor of the Palestinians remained in force.
Since succeeding Mahathir as prime minister in October 2003, Dato Seri Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi has reiterated Malaysia’s total support for the Palestinians and severely criticized Israel, though in a style less crude than Mahathir’s. He accused Israel of state terrorism and of inflicting evils on the Palestinians that were starting to resemble the atrocities undergone by the Jews themselves. He said in a speech on 14 September 2005, “We must maintain a distinction between acts of terrorism and the right of people fighting for self-determination,” implying that Palestinian terrorism was justified. He criticized suicide bombings as inexpedient but not as immoral.33
Despite Malaysia’s many provocations regarding Israel, especially during Mahathir’s tenure, the country has not generally been of great interest to Israeli policymakers or to Asia specialists in its Foreign Ministry. Sharett was an exception, and Meir in the 1960s and Rabin in the 1990s also showed some interest. Otherwise prime ministers and foreign ministers have been indifferent, even though Mahathir’s pronouncements in particular could have prompted Israeli countermeasures in the United States.
Malaysian politicians state from time to time state that they will not open diplomatic relations with Israel so long as the Palestinian problem is not solved.