Some have started to refer to Malaysia as one of most anti-Semitic countries in the world. A title hardly worthy of praise. Recently, the matter has been further exacerbated because of a huge and still unresolved corruption scandal featuring a mysterious $700 million that was transferred into a bank account belonging to the country’s Prime Minister Najib Razak. The money arrived just before a hotly contested 2013 national election, which saw Najib’s United Malay National Organization (UMNO) triumph by a whisker.
The Wall Street Journal, which first uncovered the scandal, reported that it came from the 1MDB, a Malaysian state development fund, which is now many billions of dollars in debt. Malaysia’s Attorneys General Office, in a recent report considered by many outside commentators as nothing more than state propaganda, insisted that the money was not looted from a state institution and that the $700 million was actually a ‘gift’ from the Saudi royal family. Nice gift!
While the Attorneys General Report did not explain why the Saudi royal family would be motivated to make such a generous donation, Aziz Kaprawi, division head of the United Malay Party Leader and deputy head of the Transportation Ministry, explained, the prince did expect something in return. “If we had lost [the 2013 election], [rival political party] DAP would be in power. DAP with its Jewish funding would control this country. Based on that, our Muslim friends in the Middle East could see the Jewish threat through DAP.” According to this account, the mysterious Arab prince had sent $700 million to the prime minister’s bank account for a cause that any average Malaysian might be expected to understand, even sympathize with: to protect Malaysia from the Jews.
Blaming Jews for all manner of machinations, crimes, and failures is a normal part of Malaysian politics, even though very few of the country’s citizens have ever laid eyes on one. While Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country of 30 million, nestled just south of Thailand, had a minuscule Jewish population that mostly emigrated decades ago, it still has a very active history of selecting leaders who make anti-Semitic remarks. Mahathir Mohamed, Malaysia’s prime minister from 1981 to 2003, gained international notoriety (as well as, in some circles, approbation) for his 2003 speech at the Organization of the Islamic Conference, where he suggested that while Jews and Muslims were natural enemies, “1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews.” He also noted that, “The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule the world by proxy.”
Malaysian leaders’ anti-Semitism has trickled down. A 2014 ADL survey found that more than 60 percent of Malaysians exhibited anti-Semitic beliefs, making Malaysia the most anti-Semitic country surveyed in Asia outside of the Middle East. Michael Salberg, the Director of International Affairs at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said, “There is a decades long tradition of political leaders in Malaysia defaulting to anti-Semitic tropes to explain all kinds of social, political, and economic circumstances. It is classical scapegoating, deflecting responsibility to an unseen hand.”
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