Dr M: Unfair to call me anti-Semitic, it's Malaysia's right to deny Israel entry

Dr Mahathir justified Malaysia's recent entry ban on Israeli swimmers by highlighting that the country had no diplomatic ties with Israel. ― Picture by Firdaus Latif
Dr Mahathir justified Malaysia's recent entry ban on Israeli swimmers by highlighting that the country had no diplomatic ties with Israel. ― Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 19 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has said it is unfair to label him as anti-Semitic and asserted that Malaysia has the right to disallow Israeli citizens including their athletes from entering the country.

Dr Mahathir justified Malaysia's recent entry ban on Israeli swimmers in the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships to be hosted in Kuching, by highlighting that the country had no diplomatic ties with Israel.

“Well, many countries today are seeing outsiders coming to their country and not very happy about it. They are overthrowing their governments because their governments allow immigrants to come in.

“So a country has the right to keep its borders closed to certain people, that's why borders are there. But in Malaysia we have had no diplomatic relations with Israel at all and we don't think that they should come to our country because we have no relations to 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,” the prime minister said during a dialogue session after his speech at the prestigious Oxford Union in UK.

Dr Mahathir was asked if it was legitimate to penalise individual Israeli citizens who may also be critical of the the Israeli regime by banning the swimmers from entering Malaysia.

When later pressed on whether he regretted targeting Jewish people with his remarks that were considered anti-Semitic instead of directly criticising the Israeli government, Dr Mahathir again reiterated Malaysia's right to manage its own borders.

“Well, we can't do very much about the Israeli government, they are very powerful, so we don't say anything about the Israeli government, but we don't have to show friendship towards them.

“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 in the session that was recorded on video and posted on Facebook.

During the same dialogue session, Dr Mahathir also said: “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.”

When asked why he had in the past made remarks deemed anti-Semitic such as calling the Jews “hook-nosed” to oppose the Israeli government's actions instead of criticising the latter, Dr Mahathir pointed to freedom of speech.

“Well, I can't understand this, we talk about freedom of speech, and yet you cannot say anything against Israel, against the Jews, why is that so?

“If we are free to say what we like, we can say that they are something that will be regarded as anti-Semitic by the Jews. That is their right  to hold such opinions of me, it is my right also to tell them that they have been doing a lot of wrong things,” he said to claps.

Dr Mahathir also explained that he had used the words “Yahudi” or Jews in his remarks as this would be understood, as compared to if he directed it only to the Zionists.

He also said it would not be wrong to act against Israeli athletes when the Opposition is against the Israeli government, drawing an analogy to palm oil.

“Because for example, Europe wants to declare palm oil as poisonous, why do you hurt the poor farmers in Malaysia because you dislike the government?” he said.

Dr Mahathir was also asked if he thought the kind of remarks he made would help achieve the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict, instead of using a constructive approach in dealing with the Israeli government.

“I don't know about constructive way. This is a government that doesn't care about the opinions of others, that's why they keep on committing war crimes all the time.

“So what I say is what I have a right to say, but if they don't like it, they can say they don't like it, I don't care,” he said.