Wednesday, Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister of Malaysia, is expected to address Columbia’s World Leaders Forum.
Mahathir has a long history of blatant anti-Semitism and fear mongering. According to a 2012 post on his blog, Mahathir is “proud to be labeled anti-Semitic.” In his autobiography, A Doctor in the House, he claims that “Jews are not merely hook-nosed, but understand money instinctively.” Mahathir has also used known tropes of Holocaust denial to make political points, stating in one BBC interview that “you cannot even mention that in the Holocaust it was not six million [Jews killed in the Holocaust].” In 1997, Mahathir gave a speech claiming that the failure of the ringgit was due to a “Jewish agenda” led by Holocaust survivor and philanthropist George Soros, peddling anti-Semitic tropes of “Jewish money” and a worldwide Jewish conspiracy in order to placate his constituents.
It is true that the First Amendment guarantees that any individual, including Prime Minister Mahathir, has the right to speak his mind without government censure. It does not mean that a person can say anything without social or academic consequences. Speaking at Columbia University is a privilege, not a right.
Why should Columbia University provide a forum for public expressions of anti-Semitism? Why should the 10,000 Jews on Columbia’s campus have to feel targeted, unsafe, uncomfortable? Why should hate speech and bigotry be given a free pass? Why should the already increasingly anti-Semitic environments on campuses worldwide be further exacerbated by a man who has unequivocally presented himself as a hater of the Jewish people? Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a proud anti-Semite, was already hosted by the Columbia’s World Leaders Forum. Why should this occur again?
We call on Columbia’s World Leaders Forum to cancel this event. If this is not possible, we call on the President of Columbia University, Dr. Lee Bollinger, to enforce a cancellation or, at least, denounce Dr. Mahathir’s previous anti-Semitic remarks on stage. Columbia University students have the right to live and learn in a place where hatred will never be invited in or celebrated; For, as e.e. cummings wrote in his own writings regarding anti-Semitism, ”hatred bounces.”
Romy Ronen and Michale Schueler are sophomores at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Romy Ronen is a member of the Israeli-American Council-Act.IL New York Media Room and a board member of Students Supporting Israel at Columbia University.