Malaysia and Israel trade barbs over Paralympics
- Israeli spokesperson accuses PM Mahathir of ‘rabid anti-Semitism’
- Malaysian foreign minister expresses deep disgust over Israeli comments
A war of words has erupted between Israel and Malaysia, days after the Southeast Asian country stood defiant on its decision to ban Israeli participation in all sporting events it hosts.
Israel on Thursday condemned Malaysia’s stance as “shameful” and emblematic of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s “rabid anti-Semitism”.
That sharp statement saw a swift retort from Malaysia late on Friday, with Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah declaring he was “deeply disgusted” by the comments from a spokesperson of Israel’s foreign ministry.
“For more than half a century, Israel has continued to disregard the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, while committing inhumane policies and practices that are in clear violation of international laws,” Saifuddin said in a three-paragraph statement.
“Israel has no right to talk about moral values when they themselves are the exact opposite.”
Israel’s statement had said Malaysia – which does not have diplomatic ties with the Middle Eastern nation – acted against the Olympic spirit by banning its athletes from competing in a Paralympics swimming qualifier that is to be held in the city of Kota Kinabalu.
Malaysia said its decision was based on “humanitarian reasons” and was about “fighting on behalf of the oppressed”.
Saifuddin had also said his country would bar Israelis from taking part in any future events in Malaysia.
The swimming event, the World Para Swimming Championships, is to be held in July and is a qualifying event for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
Israel said it had asked the International Paralympic Committee to overturn the Malaysian decision, or change the event venue. The world body, too, had last week condemned the Malaysian ban.
Mahathir for years has brushed off accusations that he is an anti-Semite, insisting instead that he is simply an ardent defender of Palestine.
He shaped Malaysia’s current hardline policy against Israel – and in support of Palestine – during his first stint in power, from 1981 through 2003.
That policy has come back to the fore since his return to power last year.
Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly in October, Mahathir blasted Israel for its occupation of Palestinian land, and showed little remorse when asked in a subsequent BBC interview about his past reputation as an anti-Semite.
“If you are going to be truthful, the problem in the Middle East began with the creation of Israel. That is the truth. But I cannot say that,” he said.
Asked why he had referred to Jews as “hook-nosed” in his 1970 book “The Malay Dilemma”, Mahathir said: “They are hook-nosed. Many people called the Malays fat-nosed. We didn’t object, we didn’t go to war for that.”
The Palestinian people for decades have been struggling to establish a sovereign state in the West Bank and Gaza – controlled by Hamas – with east Jerusalem as its capital. Both Israel and the Palestinian people claim that part of the ancient city.
Israel says its national capital is Jerusalem, although just a minority of the world’s sovereign nations recognise this.
US President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison were heavily criticised last year for officially recognising Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.