Malaysia ban against Israeli athletes is not an act of antisemitism, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said in a question and answer session at Oxford Union.
“A country has a right to keep its borders closed to certain people, that is why borders are there,” Mahathir said. He spoke in defense of his country’s decision not to allow Israeli swimmers to participate in the World Para Swimming Championships scheduled to take place in his country in July.
Malaysia and Israel do not have diplomatic relations, so there is no reason for its athletes to enter the country, he said. “We feel that they were doing a lot of wrong things and getting away with it, because no one dares say anything against them.”
He added, “It’s not fair to call me antisemitic. They should call other people antisemitic. I am not antisemitic. The Arabs are all semitic people.”
In October, during a BBC interview, Mahathir described Jews as “hook-nosed.” During that interview he said that “if you’re going to be truthful, the problem in the Middle East began with the creation of Israel.” He also said that four million Jews, not six million, were killed in the Holocaust.
At Oxford, the interviewer pressed Mahathir on his past comments, asking why he targeted racist remarks against the Jewish people.
“We talk about freedom of speech, but 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 something that is regarded as antisemitic by the Jews, that is their right, to hold such an opinion of me. It is my right to tell them, also, that they have been doing a lot of wrong things,” Mahathir said.
There is not much that can be done against the Israeli government, because it is very powerful, but Malaysia does not have to show friendship toward its people, he said.
“If we consider them unfit to visit Malaysia, that is our right,” Mahathir said.
He added that if Israel didn’t like his remarks, it could say that. “I don’t care,” Mahathir added.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.