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Putting out the welcome mat for an anti-Semite

Malaysia's PM is proud to speak out against 'the Jews,' and yet is feted by Trump, Obama, and others who officially denounce anti-Semitism
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. (Wikipedia)
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. (Wikipedia)

The rising tide of anti-Semitism throughout the world is impossible to ignore. Most recently in Monsey and Jersey City — and previously in Pittsburgh, Poway, and Halle — the violent and deadly attacks against Jews and Jewish sites have received their fair share of attention. Yet the resurgence of Jew-hatred must be exposed and countered from all corners of the Earth, including in those places where the West is not traditionally accustomed to looking.

Take Malaysia, where the government presents the country to the world as a tolerant, multicultural nation comfortable with diversity. This may be true of some of its citizens, but it cannot be said of its current government or prime minister.

Indeed, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is one of the most anti-Semitic leaders of the 21st century. This is a man who openly touts his anti-Semitism, repeatedly claiming Jews “are not merely hook-nosed, but understand money instinctively.” This past September, at Columbia University, while mitigating the Holocaust, he added that by making his frequent anti-Semitic statements, “I am exercising my right to free speech. Why is it that I can’t say something against the Jews…?” This is nothing new from Mahathir, who has distributed copies of The International Jew – an anti-Semitic diatribe that was a key influence on the Nazis and is still banned in Germany – to his party members.

Nevertheless, President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle recently visited Malaysia for the Obama Foundation’s inaugural Asia Pacific leaders gathering from December 10-14. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, will be invited to share a stage with Mahathir early this year at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit in Kuala Lumpur. Why do American leaders from both sides of the partisan aisle give this de facto seal of approval to anti-Semites like Mahathir?

After all, American, European, and other world leaders continue to make sweeping declarations of their commitment to fight anti-Semitism, the evil scourge of hatred that rears its head almost daily in different locales. They express horror at the steady stream of anti-Semitic acts across the globe in the form of Swastika graffiti, violent attacks on Jews on the street, and shootings at synagogues.

On the one hand, Western leaders deserve credit where credit is due for their affirmations that the seeping evil of anti-Semitism cannot be allowed to bring upon this century the devastation it brought to previous ones. On the other hand, they must also disavow their fellow world leaders who aspire to be included in this club of the free world and are received in good standing, but who are in fact among the most vile and unashamed propagators of anti-Semitism and bigotry today.

It should begin with Matahir, who in the past has gone so far as stopping the New York Philharmonic from performing a piece by Jewish composer Ernst Bloch in Kuala Lumpur, and banning screenings of Schindler’s List in Malaysia, due to the Jewish character of those forms of artistic expression. This year, Matahir banned Israelis with disabilities from taking part in the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships in Malaysia.

With over 60 percent of its population harboring negative opinions of Jews, Malaysia has the highest rate of anti-Semitic views in Asia. This is despite the fact that Malaysia has no geographic proximity to Israel, has never had any conflict with Israel, and does not have many Jewish citizens — the last reported to have fled due to anti-Semitism in the early 1980s.

But the most troubling aspect of the Malaysian example is the warm welcome Mahathir receives around the world. The welcome mat has been rolled out for him time and again in global cities, top universities, and leading media outlets. Time magazine has even named him on its 2019 list of the world’s 100 most influential people for his “core values.”

Therefore, after the Obamas visited Malaysia in December and as President Trump’s trip to the same country lies ahead in the near future, it is time for international leaders to state clearly and unequivocally that Mahathir’s views are completely unacceptable among the family of nations. While the events attended by Presidents Obama and Trump in Malaysia are important global forums, America’s leaders and their counterparts worldwide must at minimum adhere to and reaffirm their commitment to fighting and condemning Matahir’s anti-Semitism, short of cancelling their planned appearances in Malaysia altogether. A virulent anti-Semite like Matahir must be confronted and snubbed at every turn. No questions asked, no exceptions made.

As the global Jewish community battles the worst anti-Semitism since World War II, we need allies in this fight. It is incumbent upon Western leaders to call out and denounce bigots for what they are – and not provide them a respected place in the international arena. Mahathir must be recognized and treated as among the most unrepentant fomenters of anti-Semitism and discrimination of this era. His sowing of hatred should alarm us all.

About the Author
Isaac Herzog is Chairman of the Executive at The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli Knesset’s former opposition leader.
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