Israel key electoral issue in... Malaysia?

A country need not have any Jews or diplomatic relations with Jerusalem for Israel to take center stage in politics.

Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar 390 (photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer Malaysia)
Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar 390
(photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer Malaysia)
A country need not have any Jews or diplomatic relations with Jerusalem for Israel to take center stage in its electoral campaign. Just look at Malaysia.
A comment on protecting Israel’s security that appeared in the 19th paragraph of a 22- paragraph story in The Wall Street Journal on Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, has – as Shibani Mahtani, the author of that piece, wrote later in a blog post – cast Israel into the center of Malaysian elections.
Anwar was quoted as saying “I support all efforts to protect the security of the State of Israel.” He stopped short, however, of advocating opening diplomatic ties with Israel, which he said remained contingent on Israel respecting the aspirations of Palestinians.
Malaysia, with 17 million Muslims making up 61 percent of the population, has no governmental contacts with Israel, although there is some private business trade.
Anwar’s comments, Mahtani wrote in her blog post, “have demonstrated yet again how issues related to Israel continue to divide this majority-Muslim country – and could influence the country’s next national election.” Elections are expected by the end of the year.
No sooner were the remarks publicized, than Anwar was attacked for everything from abandoning the Palestinians, to doing the bidding of Jewish organizations and US Jews.
The Malaysian Chronicle wrote, “Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin does not rule out [the] possibility” that Anwar’s comment “supporting efforts to protect Israel’s security” was an attempt “to invite [the] Jewish state and [the] United States to interfere in Malaysian politics.”
According to this article, Muhyiddin “said there might be some truth when the Malaysian Council of Former Elected Representatives considered the statement by the opposition leader as an attempt to gain Jewish support for [the] 13th general election.”
Muhyiddin warned that if Anwar won the elections he might change Malaysia’s policies on Israel and the Palestinians, or possibly “accommodate the demands and sentiments of parties in [the] US.”
A prominent Malaysian intellectual, Chandra Muzzafar, told the country’s New Strait Times that Anwar “understands that for the US, as far as the Arab- Israel conflict is concerned, defending Israel matters most. And he knows that US lobbyists judge other countries’ leaders based on their stand on the conflict.”
Chandra said that “by coming out with such a statement, furthermore in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, which is owned by Zionist media mogul Rupert Murdoch, Anwar is telling them that he is a man whom they can depend on.”
Following the furor caused by his words, Anwar released a communiqué saying “I am issuing a stern warning to anyone trying to twist my statement just so that they can say that I have betrayed the aspirations of the Palestinian people,” adding that his party’s stand is to defend the rights of whoever it is that has been victimized.
Ironically, in 2010 Anwar himself was accused of anti- Semitism and being anti-Israel after he accused the Malaysian government of ties with a public relations firm that he said was a front for the Israeli government.
One Israeli diplomatic official characterized what was happening in Malaysia as “absurd.”
“It is very sad that they have to use Israel to ram each other in an electoral campaign,” the official said. “It shows intellectual terrorism at work: that no once can say anything that blazes a new path. Instead, you have to be more Catholic than the pope, or more Islamic than Al-Azhar,” the renowned Islamic university in Cairo.