Columbia University decries Dr M’s ‘anti-Semitism’, but says PM must be given room to speak

Dr Mahathir is in the United States for the 74th United Nations General Assembly. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Dr Mahathir is in the United States for the 74th United Nations General Assembly. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 25 — Columbia University has explained today that it does not endorse the views of speakers invited to speak at its World Leaders Forum, ahead of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s address there.

In a statement, its president Lee C. Bollinger said invited speakers sometimes express opinions antithetical to its values, and the invitation is neither a validation nor an endorsement of the views of the speakers.

“You are right that I find the anti-Semitic statements of Prime Minister Mahathir to be abhorrent, contrary to what we stand for, and deserving of condemnation,” Bollinger said.

“Nevertheless, it is in these instances that we are most strongly resolved to insist that our campus remain an open forum and to protect the freedoms essential to our university community.”

He said the university has long defined itself as one that serves as a forum for its faculty and students to confront and debate the critical issues of the day. 

“While no one has a right to come onto the campus and speak, faculty members, academic centres, student groups and the University itself may extend invitations to guest speakers for many reasons but, in particular, to provide us with the opportunity to engage people who shape our lives — for good and ill. 

“This form of open, public engagement can sometimes be difficult, even painful at times,” Bollinger said. 

“But to abandon this activity would be to limit severely our capacity to understand and confront the world as it is, which is a central and utterly serious mission for any academic institution,” he added.

Dr Mahathir is in the United States for the 74th United Nations General Assembly.

His talk in Columbia is on rule of law and multilateralism, moderated by Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, the Dorothy Borg associate professor in the History of the United States and East Asia.

In June, a group of Jewish students in the United Kingdom took Dr Mahathir to task for a series of remarks allegedly disparaging to the community during the prime minister’s talk in Cambridge Union there.

The Union of Jewish Students said it was also disturbed by the crowd made up of Cambridge undergraduates, Malaysian undergraduates and Malaysians in the UK, who laughed at the alleged anti-Semitic remarks.

In January, Jewish students at Oxford University had also protested Dr Mahathir’s appearance there.

In the interview with British broadcaster BBC in October last year, Dr Mahathir said he still held the views that caused him to be previously accused of anti-Semitism.

Dr Mahathir and the new Pakatan Harapan government have doubled down on their condemnations of Israel and Zionists while backing Palestinians amid the long-standing Middle East conflict.

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