KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has once again sparked controversy over his anti-Semitic views while on a working visit to the United Kingdom, with his remarks drawing the ire of local Jewish students.
“I have some Jewish friends, very good friends, they are not like the other Jews, that’s why they are my friends,” Dr Mahathir reportedly said at the Cambridge Union debating society on Sunday (Jun 16).
His remarks were said to have been followed by laughter from the audience, prompting a sharp response from the Jewish student community.
In a tweet, the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) stated: “Freedom of speech is not a joke when it incites hatred against one people.”
The UJS represents more than 8,000 Jewish students on UK campuses.
Mr Adam Cannon, a lawyer and former UJS president added that allowing anti-Semitic and racist comments to go unchallenged while the audience laughed was unacceptable.
“It is shameful and humiliating for such a great institution to allow this to take place,” he said.
In a statement, the Cambridge Union noted that laughter had originated from the middle section of the room, where the prime minister’s delegation was seated.
“Our moderator repeatedly challenged the Prime Minister on his anti-Semitic comments, bringing the conversation to the topic continuously,” it said.
It added that the Cambridge Jewish Society was invited to attend the talk and ask questions, while questions submitted by UJS prior to the event were relayed to the Malaysian leader via the moderator.
This is not the first time Dr Mahathir has made anti-Semitic remarks publicly.
He has in the past questioned whether six million Jewish people died during the Holocaust and described Jewish people as “hook nosed”.
Speaking at the Oxford Union in January, he was repeatedly challenged by students over his anti-Semitic comments. In response, he then said: “I cannot understand this. We talk about freedom of speech and yet you cannot say anything against Israel, against the Jews. Why is that so?”
Later that month, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) stripped Malaysia of the right to host the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships because the country had banned Israeli athletes.
Malaysia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
When asked if he was disappointed with the decision, Dr Mahathir said back then: “They want to cancel, let them cancel. I find that the world has to follow what Israel says. I don’t understand because the world has the power but still has to listen to Israel... but we won’t”.
Before Dr Mahathir’s speech on Sunday, UJS expressed disappointment that Cambridge Union decided to host the veteran politician.
“We expect Mahathir Mohamad to be robustly challenged on his anti-Jewish racism and to be shown that his views are not welcome on UK campuses,” UJS said last week.
On Sunday, Dr Mahathir reportedly defended his decision to call Jews “hooked nosed”.
“People do generalise, in describing certain people we take some general characteristics that they have, why is it that it’s the Jews who resent this when other people don’t resent being accused of some general characteristic that they have?” he said.