TEL AVIV – Malaysia’s prime minister said his country has a “right” to deny entry to Israelis and that it was “unfair to label him as anti-Semitic” due to his anti-Semitic remarks, which have included calling Jews “hook-nosed” and claiming they have an obsession with money.
Mahathir Mohamad told Oxford University’s famous debating chamber that “a country has the right to keep its borders closed to certain people, that’s why borders are there.”
His comments came after Malaysia barred entry for Israeli athletes taking part in a Paralympic swimming tournament.
Israel described the move as “shameful” and called on the International Paralympic Committee to pressure Malaysia into walking back the decision or else changing the venue of the tournament.
“Many countries today are seeing outsiders coming to their country and they are not very happy about it. They are overthrowing their governments because their governments allow immigrants to come in,” Mohamad said Friday in a discussion session posted to Facebook.
Malaysia, Mohamad continued, has “no diplomatic relations with Israel at all, and we don’t think that they should come to our country because we have no relations with them.”
“We feel that they were doing a lot of wrong things but getting away with it, because nobody dares to say anything against them,” he said.
A host asked him whether it was “fair to penalize” individual Israeli civilians or athletes over the policies of the Israeli government, to which Mohamad responded: “Well, it is not fair to call me anti-Semitic; they should call other people anti-Semitic. I am not anti-Semitic, the Arabs are all Semitic people.”
His answer was met with a round of applause.
The host pressed him further, noting that Mohamad had recently said during an interview with the BBC that Jews are “hook-nosed” with “an instinctive sense of money.”
Mohamad said the remarks were not anti-Semitic but were part of “freedom of speech,” and asked “why we can’t say anything against Israel, against the Jews?”
“We are free to say what we like, we can say something that can be regarded as anti-Semitic by the Jews. That is their right to hold such an opinion of me. It is my right to tell them they have been doing a lot of wrong things,” he said.
When asked again why criticism of the Israeli government has to result in anti-Semitic remarks, Mohamad said, “Well, it seems most of them support the stance taken by [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu against the Arabs, so when I say only the ‘Zionists,’ people don’t understand. What they do understand is the word ‘yahudi’ or ‘Jews.'”
The Israeli government, he said, is “very powerful, so we don’t say anything about the Israeli government, but we don’t have to show friendship towards them.”
“This is a government that does not care about the opinion of others, that’s why they keep on committing war crimes all the time … so if they don’t like it, they can say they don’t like it, I don’t care,” he added, and was met with more applause and cheering.
“If they want to come to our country, we have borders which we guard to allow only people whom we like to come to Malaysia. But the people who have done a lot of wrong things, if we consider them as unfit to visit Malaysia, that is our right,” he said.
Jewish groups protested the invitation to Oxford extended to the 93-year-old Malaysian leader.
The Oxford Jewish Society said Mohamad is “known for publicly expressing anti-Semitic views.”
“Prime Minister Mohamad is an open and unrepentant anti-Semite, accusing Jews of ‘Nazi cruelty’ and seeking to wipe out all Muslims, has said ‘Anti-Semitic’ is ‘an invented term to prevent criticizing Jews for doing wrong,’ as well as indulging in Holocaust denial. Given an opportunity to reframe his comments on a recent edition of BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’, he instead chose to refer to Jews as ‘hook-nosed,’” Oxford Jewish Society President Nicole Jacobus said in a statement.