In an interview on Monday, Malaysia’s avowedly anti-Semitic prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said accusations that he was anti-Semitic were meant to silence his criticism of Jews “for doing wrong things.”
In an interview with the Associated Press that ranged from trade with China to the Rohingya crisis in nearby Myanmar, Mohamad, a longtime champion of Palestinian causes, was asked about his record of comments seen as anti-Semitic.
“We should be able to criticize everybody,” he said, and assailed laws against denying the scale of the Holocaust.
“Anti-Semitic is a term that is invented to prevent people from criticizing the Jews for doing wrong things,” he said.
Mahathir led his opposition Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition to a surprise victory in national elections in May. On Thursday he took his oath of office before the king, Sultan Muhammad V. He is a larger-than-life figure in Malaysia, with his influence dominating the multiethnic country’s politics from the Cold War into a new millennium. His first turn as prime minister stretched for 22 years, coming to an end in 2003.
He is also famous for his virulent anti-Semitism. He wrote on his personal blog in 2012 that “Jews rule this world by proxy,” the Associated Press has reported.
In a 2003 speech before assembled leaders of Muslim-majority nations at the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit in Kuala Lumpur, he called for “1.3 billion Muslims” to unite to “counterattack” against the “few million Jews” who had defeated them. He also suggested Jews sought to “wipe out” all the world’s Muslims, and used the Holocaust as an example Muslims could emulate.
“1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews,” he said in the speech. “There must be a way. And we can only find a way if we stop to think, to assess our weaknesses and our strength, to plan, to strategize and then to counterattack. We are actually very strong. 1.3 billion people cannot be simply wiped out. The Europeans killed six million Jews out of 12 million.”
He has also said, “I am 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 and hard-heartedness towards not just their enemies but even towards their allies should any try to stop the senseless killing of their Palestinian enemies.”
He wrote in his 1970 book “The Malay Dilemma” that “the Jews are not merely hook-nosed, but understand money instinctively.”
Mahathir rose to prominence by controversially championing the country’s indigenous Malays, whom he saw as disadvantaged compared to the country’s Chinese minority, and he oversaw the rapid development of his young country while concentrating power under his increasingly autocratic rule.
He has long seemed to relish his role as an antagonist to the West. He frequently criticized the US and its close allies — often with colorful and at times offensive language — while promoting what he saw as Asian values and interests.
Mahathir’s criticism of Western leaders has extended more recently to US President Donald Trump, whom he described as an “erratic man” during an AP interview last year. His return to office hasn’t tempered his opinion.
“So far he has not indicated that I should change my views,” he said of Trump on Monday. “He changes his mind within 24 hours. I mean it is difficult to deal with any person whose mind is not made up.”
Still, Malaysia would continue to welcome American investment, particularly in high-tech sectors, he said, as he promised tax breaks and other incentives.
Mahathir was scathing in his criticism of Myanmar, a country whose inclusion into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations he had pushed for in 1997 despite concerns over human rights abuses and protests by the US.
“It is grossly unjust to do what they have done, killing people, mass murder, that’s not the way civilized nations behave,” he said.
The previous government of predominantly Muslim Malaysia strongly supported the Rohingya, a persecuted minority in Myanmar who have fled by the hundreds of thousands to neighboring Bangladesh after a crackdown last year that some have called ethnic cleansing. Malaysia has said the displacement of Rohingya is no longer a domestic issue for Myanmar, in a rare departure from ASEAN’s non-interference policy in each other’s affairs.
Mahathir added that he was “very disappointed” in Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s failure to halt the oppression.
“Obviously she appears to be with the government of the day on how they treat the Rohingyas. It’s a question of justice and human rights. You can’t do that,” he said.
He stopped short of committing Malaysia to taking in more Rohingya refugees, however, saying the 7 million legal and undocumented foreigners Malaysia already hosts are “far too many.”