Malaysia defends Jewish remarks
Friday, October 17, 2003 Posted: 9:20 AM EDT (1320 GMT)
PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia -- Malaysia's foreign minister has apologized for what he described as any misunderstandings over Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's assertion that Jews "rule the world", saying no offence from the remarks was intended.
Fighting to rein in a surge of international outrage that followed the Malaysian leader's comments Thursday, Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Friday that Mahathir had been misunderstood.
Syed Hamid said it was important to realize that Islam was not anti-Jewish and the problem was with Israel.
In his wide-ranging speech to the Organization of Islamic Conference, the often-controversial Mahathir launched a blistering attack on Jews and Israel saying, "Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them."
Assertions of Jewish dominance dominated Mahathir's speech, which also called for a modernization of Islam and the embracing of technology and progress to lift the Muslim world out of -- as Mahathir described -- a self-induced state of "oppression."
"I'm sorry that they have misunderstood the whole thing," Syed Hamid told The Associated Press. "The intention is not to create controversy. His intention is to show that if you ponder and sit down to think, you can be very powerful."
"Please forget about anti-Semitism," Syed Hamid told reporters. "Islam has never advocated being anti anybody including the Jews."
"The only problem with the Jews is when the State of Israel was created," he said, adding that Jews worked and were welcomed in Malaysia.
"The PM's message is to stop violence, which is not the answer for us to succeed in our struggle. People may not be very happy but this is the reality: the Jews are very powerful."
Syed Hamid also noted that Malaysia has a state policy of religious harmony, in which the ethnic Malay Muslim majority lives alongside large non-Muslim Chinese and Indian minorities.
Mahathir, who steps down at the end of the month, has become notorious for controversial speeches during his 22 years as leader. He has been a key proponent of a unified political stance among Muslim nations, often taking aim at Israel over its occupation of Palestinian territory and the U.S. for its Middle East policy.
He told leaders from 57 Islamic nations at the conference -- the biggest gathering of Muslim leaders since the September 11, 2001 -- that the Muslim world had achieved "nothing" in its 50 years struggle against Israel.
He called on Muslims to emulate the Jewish response to oppression, arguing the Jewish people had "survived 2,000 years of pogroms not by hitting back, but by thinking."
Mahathir said, "They invented socialism, communism, human rights and democracy, so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so that they can enjoy equal rights with others.
"With these they have gained control of the most powerful countries and they, this tiny community, have become a world power.
"We cannot fight them through brawn alone, we must use our brains, also."
Mahathir said the world's "1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews," but suggested the use of political and economic tactics, not violence, to achieve what he called a "final victory."
"In today's world, we wield a lot of political, economic and financial clout, enough to make up for our weaknesses in military terms," Mahathir said.
While his speech drew a standing ovation from leaders at the summit, it also sparked an Angry response from the United States, Europe, Israel and Australia.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled told CNN, "We deeply regret and reject the statement made by Prime Minister Mahathir," but added that Israel is still studying the statement.
"We find it especially discomfiting that, at a time like this, instead of calling for peace and reconciliation among peoples and nations, there are statements fueling further hatred and misunderstanding.
"It comes as no surprise that in a summit like this there is a search for the lowest common denominator among the members, which is Israeli-bashing."
Mahathir's comments came on the eve of U.S. President George W. Bush's trip to Asia, although administration officials took pains Thursday to make clear that a formal meeting between the two leaders is not on the cards.
"Prime Minister Mahathir's bluster and polarizing rhetoric are not new," a senior administration official said. "But his most recent hate-filled remarks further cement his legacy of outrageous and misguided public statements. We urge leaders of all faiths to publicly condemn these vile statements."
Bush has no plans to meet with Mahathir, although the two may "bump into each other" at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum to be held in Bangkok, Thailand, the official said.
In Brussels, European Union leaders concluded a two-day summit with a statement accusing Mahathir of spreading falsehoods and sowing ethnic and religious divisions.
"His unacceptable comments hinder all our efforts to further interethnic and religious harmony, and have no place in a decent world," the EU leaders said.
In Britain, the Foreign Office summoned Malaysia's top diplomat in London to express concern about Mahathir's remarks.
Malaysian High Commissioner Mohammed Dato'Abdul Aziz was summoned Friday to meet Minister of State Mike O'Brien "to raise our concerns directly about Prime Minister Mahathir's speech," the Foreign Office said.
"It's unfortunate that Mahathir chose to make these remarks which we regard as unacceptable. It's particularly regrettable that some of his positive and welcome messages, such as negotiation being the right path to peace and the futility of terrorism, have been obscured and overshadowed by racist remarks," the Foreign Office said.