(photo credit: REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad)
Start firing up the beef rendang and bone up on your Malay: The Malaysians are
coming to town.
Well, at least some of them. Or, more precisely,
more of them than in the past.
The website of Malaysia’s Star
ran a story Thursday under the headline, “The Government relaxes Israel travel
ban.” According to the story, the government – “reflecting the spirit of the
season” – announced the lifting of restrictions on pilgrimages to Israel for
Malaysians, removing the quota on the number of pilgrims allowed each year and
allowing travel to anyone for up to 21 days at a time.
Citing a letter
issued by the Prime Minister’s Office to the Christian Federation of Malaysia,
the report said that Christians in this predominantly Muslim country can now
visit Israel as many times as they want, and travel anywhere in the country they
While the report said that previously pilgrimages to Israel were
limited to 700 Malaysians each year, with only 40 from one church and a stay of
only up to 10 days at a time, figures from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics
indicate that in 2011, 2,900 Malaysian tourists visited the
Israel has no diplomatic ties with Malaysia, and Foreign
Ministry officials downplayed the possibility that the move had any diplomatic
significance, saying it did not presage a thawing in relations with the
southeast Asian country.
While Malaysians can visit Israel, Israelis
still are unable to obtain a visa to Malaysia.
story quoted the
executive secretary of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, Tan Kong Beng, as
saying he expected more Christians to apply to go to Jerusalem for religious
Malaysia’s Christian population stands at some 2.7 million
people, out of a population of about 29 million.
He also dismissed local
news reports that “the relaxation of the restrictions, contained under an
eight-point guideline in the letter, was carried out as part of a ‘concession’
by the government with the general election around the corner.”
however, one catch. According to the report, Tan said, “As far as we
understand, the government will not allow us to visit if there is a security
situation in Israel, which is fair.”
Israeli tour operators familiar with
Malay are undoubtedly saying to themselves, “jangan kuatir” (“don’t worry”).