Why do U.S., UK universities invite far-right antisemitic leaders?

Mohamad is the only world leader to speak at the Oxford and Cambridge Unions. This raises questions about why this one leader, known for hate speech, is such a prized speaker in the UK?

September 26, 2019 15:40
3 minute read.
Mahathir Mohamad speaks during an interview in Putrajaya, Malaysia

Mahathir Mohamad speaks during an interview in Putrajaya, Malaysia. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Columbia University is hosting the far-right anti-Semitic Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, at a time of rising anti-Semitism in the US. It comes twelve years after the university also invited Iran’s Holocaust denying anti-Semitic President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, revealing a disturbing trend of one of America’s top universities disproportionately inviting antisemitic far-right leaders to give high-profile talks.

Malaysia's Mohamad is a favorite of UK universities and he has been invited to speak at Oxford and Cambridge. In an era of rising anti-Semitism it is remarkable that leading western universities extend invitations to one of the sole proudly anti-Semitic world leaders without asking any contrition of him. It’s hard to ignore that out of some 200 countries in the world those like Mohamed appear to receive more invitations than others and it raises questions: if he weren’t anti-Semitic would he receive the same invitation? Are western universities excusing anti-Semitism and inviting foreign leaders under the guise of merely being foreign leaders with the affect that they can push a far-right racist agenda by proxy? There are hundreds of leaders who have not expressed hate speech as foreign policy, so why does Mohamad continually get the red carpet?

In October 2003 Mohamad gave a speech to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. He claimed that European countries created the state of Israel to “solve their Jewish problem.” He argued that “the Muslims will forever be oppressed and dominated by the Europeans and Jews.” He argued that there should be a different was. “1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews. There must be away.” He went on, “the Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule this world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.”

Despite his comments and hate speech he frequently gets invites by western media and academic institutions, almost as if they hope that he will make these comments. One wonders what their agenda might be since they don’t host any other racist leaders or give air time to racist views of others. There is only one type of hatred that western universities and media give a rubber stamp to: Hatred of Jews. For instance, in 2018 on BBC’s Hard Talk he attacked Jews as “hook-nosed.” He then claimed that four million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. “The problem in the Middle East began with the creation of Israel.”

Cambridge in the UK also invited the far-right anti-Semite once this year, in June. He made anti-Semitic statements at the time at the Cambridge Union. As the audience laughed, according to the JTA, he said “I have some Jewish friends, very good friends. They are not like the other Jews.” Columbia enjoyed hosting the leader who said he was “against the Jews.” The Malaysian leader has said he is “glad to be labeled anti-Semitic. How can I be otherwise when the Jews who so often talk of the horrors they suffered during the Holocaust show the same Nazi cruelty towards their enemies.”

He spoke at the Oxford Union in January where he attacked Jews as “hook nosed” and claimed it was free speech. Mohamad said that he purposely uses the word “Jews” to critique Israel. “When I say ‘Zionists’ people don’t understand, what they do understand is the word ‘yahudi’ or ‘Jews’” the Jewish Chronicle in the UK reported. According to Malaysian media he is the only world leader to speak at the Oxford and Cambridge Unions. This raises questions about why this one leader, known for hate speech, is such a prized speaker in the UK?

The frequent invitation to anti-Semitic far-right leaders raises questions about the vetting process of these invitations and why the same institutions that supposedly have policies against racism and hate speech and claim they want to campus to be a safe space, host hatred against one minority group. It raises questions also about lack of protest among student groups that are ostensibly opposed to far-right racism. The leading western academic institutions seem to have decided that rather than hosting world leaders who talk tolerance, that those who are “against the Jews” are the ones who are most prized. Eighty years after Adolf Hitler addressed the Reichstag to declare victory over Poland, sealing the fate of millions of Jews, it’s unclear why western institutions pride themselves in hosting anti-Semites and those who deny the Holocaust.

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