World Sailing investigation reaffirms ‘no discrimination’ policy after Israeli sailors denied


World Sailing said it “deeply regrets” that two Israeli youth sailors were unable to compete at last month’s world championships due to conditions imposed by Malaysia in order to grant them visas.

The international sailing organization reaffirmed and defined more explicitly, the requirements of its “no discrimination” regulations at the end of an investigation of the incident behalf of the Executive Committee of World Sailing with the full co-operation of the International Olympic Committee. The findings of the investigation were posted on its website on Wednesday.

Israel and Malaysia do not have diplomatic relations. The championships took place at the end of December.

Last year in Poland, two Israeli youth sailors — Yoav Omer and Noy Drihan — each took home gold medals. Omer won in the boys under-19 category, and Drihan was first in the under-17 and under-19 windsurfing events. But they were unable to defend their titles in Malaysia after authorities offered strict conditions in order for them to receive their visas.  Among the terms were that the Israeli windsurfers could not compete under the Israeli flag, wear any symbols associated with Israel nor have Israel’s national anthem played if they won the gold medal. The terms were not acceptable to the Israelis, and they did not participate in the championship.

The investigation found that the conditions required by the Malaysian authorities breached the World Sailing constitution. It also laid some blame on Israel, saying that the late start to register the Israeli sailors to participate led to a situation where World Sailing did not have enough time to intervene and resolve the issues.

In light of the incident, World Sailing said that any breaches of its no-discrimination policy will lead to sanctions including: non-selection as a future venue; denial of appointment of World Sailing race officials to future regattas in the country; and / or cancellation of membership of World Sailing.

The organization reaffirmed that all sailors are entitled to race with their country’s letters on their sail, and to display country flags, play anthems, and wear national team clothing.

“All World Sailing championships involve an element of country representation, and at all these regattas, flags shall be displayed and winners’ anthems played. They shall be displayed and played equally for all competitors. Organizing Authorities who are not able to meet this requirement should not bid, and will not be selected, to host future World Sailing championships,” the investigation found.

The investigation suggested that countries that do not have diplomatic relations with a host country should start the process of registration early enough to make appropriate arrangements. Participants should handle their own security, according to the findings.

”There is no place for discrimination of any kind in the worldwide sport of sailing, and an obligation of membership of World Sailing is to act without discrimination,” World Sailing said in its statement. “World Sailing will impose sanctions on any member who breaches his obligations in this area.”

Are Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims the world’s ‘least wanted’ people?


Abu Tahay, a Rohingya Muslim activist who lives in Myanmar, says his people face a simple calculus when deciding whether to remain in their western Myanmar homes or escape via the Andaman Sea on overcrowded, hopelessly equipped fishing boats:

“Do — or die.”

Rohingya Muslims number around 1 million in a majority-Buddhist country of more than 53 million. Tahay is the leader of Myanmar’s Union Nationals Development Party — an all-Muslim party prohibited from running candidates in elections. Speaking on May 30 by telephone from Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, Tahay offered up a grim checklist of what life is like for the vast majority of Myanmar’s Rohingyas (pronounced ro-heej-ah):

No economic rights. No citizenship. Overt state persecution. Violence by Buddhist extremists that’s sanctioned and sometimes assisted by the government. Horrifying levels of poverty, starvation, lack of medical care and more. 

“They know they might sink and die” in the sea, Tahay said. “They know the danger. But circumstances forced them to leave.”

The plight of the Rohingyas — a small Muslim sect that lives primarily in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and in neighboring Bangladesh — has suddenly become international news in recent weeks after The New York Times, in particular, ” target=”_blank”>denied entry into Cuba and Florida and forced to return to Europe. Although Great Britain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands took in all the St. Louis’ passengers, 532 of them came under German occupation during the war, and 254 were murdered by the Nazis.

Today, Hudson said, Western European countries are unwilling to allow the Rohingya crisis to impact the growth in business that European businesses have seen thanks to greater access to Myanmar’s economy after the end of the European Union’s economic sanctions in 2013. 

Hudson traveled to Myanmar in March and there, he said, he saw Rolex stores, new casinos and hotels, and Mercedes and Porsche dealerships — direct results of the end of the EU sanctions. “All the trappings of new money are just flooding in, and that’s really difficult to turn off,” Hudson said.

And although the Obama administration continues to raise the issue of the Rohingyas' persecution in meetings with Burmese officials, a senior State Department official told the Journal that the Rohingya issue is just one of several items on Washington’s agenda as it watches Myanmar’s slow transition from authoritarianism to democracy. 

Sowing hatred’s seeds

The story of the animosity toward Myanmar’s Muslims, particularly toward the Rohingyas, from the central government and the nation’s Buddhists, particularly by the Rakhine Buddhists, goes back centuries and, in modern history, has certain notable flash points. 

But it’s a history that started in relative harmony.

The Rohingyas were first recognized in Myanmar by the Buddhist government of U Nu, the country’s first leader after Burma gained independence in 1948. Some Rohingyas even served in Nu’s administration and, to win the support of potential Rohingya voters, some government officials granted instant citizenship to Rohingyas who entered the country from Bangladesh.

The past three decades, however, have seen a quick dissolution of Buddhist-Muslim relations, which had already been disintegrating for decades because of Buddhist fears of Muslim domination. Myanmar’s central government has used those fears to strengthen its own power, and a handful of attacks by violent Muslim and Rohingya separatists have reinforced the notion that Rohingyas are not to be trusted.

Myanmar’s 1982 citizenship law stripped most Rohingyas of Burmese citizenship and left them with few, if any, legal rights under either Burmese or international law. It also gave credence to xenophobic rhetoric from the government and Buddhist monks, including claims that the Rohingyas are not indigenous Burmese at all, but economic migrants who crossed illegally into Myanmar from Bangladesh with the intent of creating a separatist radical Muslim state. It was an overblown claim, but nevertheless contained some kernels of truth.

Pre-genocide?

Gregory Stanton is a professor in genocide studies and prevention at George Mason University in Virginia and the founder and president of the group Genocide Watch.  In 1996, he created what has become the defining list of the eight stages of genocide (now expanded to 10): classification, symbolization, discrimination, dehumanization, organization, polarization, preparation, persecution, extermination and denial.

Using these standards, the racist elements within Rakhine Buddhist society and the flame-fanners within the Burmese government have pushed the Rohingyas into the eighth stage (persecution) and on the doorstep of extermination, Hudson said.

“The regime is playing on people’s fears that without this current leadership in power, the country will be overrun by Muslim minorities and Muslim extremists, and they are the enemy, and we have to get the enemy before they get us,” Hudson said. “It’s a common narrative in pre-genocidal societies and it’s a common narrative for regimes that are facing an existential threat on their hold on power.” 

That potential threat to the government’s rule isn’t existential, but political, and it stems in part from its recent introduction of greater political and social freedoms — pushed hard by internal democratic parties and by Western governments — and the upcoming democratic elections in the fall. 

In March, Hudson traveled for 10 days to Myanmar and Thailand, along with staff from the USHMM’s Simon-Skjodt Center, on a fact-finding mission — an attempt to witness firsthand the human rights crisis that they’d previously only heard about through anecdotes and news reports.

They visited Rakhine state, spent four days in Rohingya internment camps and ghettoized villages, and traveled to Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s capital. The group chronicled its trip in a disturbing report available online, ” target=”_blank”>description of Aung Mingalar read like that of a sort of post-apocalyptic village — buildings falling apart; shops closed; and doors, windows and signs either crookedly hanging by their hinges or missing entirely.

Hudson described “row upon row of barracks” in Aung Mingalar, which reminded him of the most infamous Nazi concentration camp. “The camps are so large and spread out along this road that runs out into the jungle,” Hudson said, “it’s just eerily reminiscent of a tropical sort of Auschwitz in some ways.”

Food and medicine in Aung Mingalar are scarce, and without sufficient electricity or farmland or basic government services, earning money to live on is all but impossible. To survive, Rohingya residents depend on the generosity of aid groups and the occasional shopping trip to markets outside the ghetto — trips that can require cash to bribe the government guards at Aung Mingalar’s entrance and to pay for a security escort through the potentially hostile surrounding Rakhine Buddhist area of Sittwe.

The destitution and poverty that engulfs Aung Mingalar and its approximately 4,000 Muslims are the norm, not the exception, for Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state, even in towns that are not as obviously ghettoized and sealed as Aung Mingalar.

Nora Murphy, a physician in Chicago who has traveled several times to Rakhine state on aid missions, described life in Maungdaw, a majority-Muslim town 60 miles northwest of Sittwe, as well as other Rohingya towns in Rakhine state:

“The markets were devoid of vegetables and fruit. The poverty was so blatant,” Murphy said via telephone from Chicago. Given the region’s tropical climate, she said the Rohingyas ought to be in a position to have strong agricultural production and the resulting nutritional and health benefits that would follow. 

“During the hot season, kids were always running around having colds, for an area where their nutrition should be good,” Murphy said. She spoke on the condition that the dates of her trips and her sponsoring aid group would not be published, out of fear that the Burmese government would restrict their future ability to deliver aid, as it has done in the past to humanitarian organizations.

Like Aung Mingalar, most Rohingya villages cannot economically sustain themselves. The government’s restrictions on the Rohingyas' freedom to travel outside their towns, and its denial of basic services, along with the surrounding Buddhist population’s hostility, force the handful of Rohingyas who have been permitted limited travel to navigate the government’s complex and arbitrary checkpoint system.

“Even if you paid money, you waited, and when you got the permission to go out, there were checkpoints, and only the Rohingyas were searched,” Murphy said. 

The lack of basic medication and health care for many Rohingyas is so severe, Murphy said, that once she even had to give emergency medical advice via Facebook chat from Chicago to a Rohingya Muslim who had managed to find an Internet connection and needed immediate advice on how to stem extreme bleeding in a pregnant Rohingya woman who had just had a miscarriage.

“People who have their rights respected and enjoy basic freedoms don’t usually feel desperate enough to flee in such dangerous circumstances,” said David Scott Mathieson, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher on Burma. “All of the root causes of this problem start in Burma and Bangladesh, and that’s where long-term solutions should be found,” Mathieson said.

More than 25,000 people, most of them Rohingyas, have taken to the Andaman Sea since January, and thousands are thought to still be stranded aboard fishing boats, many abandoned by smugglers who charged hundreds of dollars — a fortune for the Rohingyas — for passage. A spokeswoman for the Pentagon told the Journal on May 29 that since May 24, U.S. Navy aircraft have conducted “regular maritime surveillance missions over the Andaman Sea, for the purpose of searching for vessels carrying Rohingya refugees.” That intelligence, the official said, is then shared with regional governments. She said the Pentagon has no official estimate for how many boats or people remain stranded in the Andaman Sea.

Meanwhile, even as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand recently agreed to offer temporary shelter to those Rohingya trafficking victims who make it ashore, decrepit refugee camps and graves filled with Rohingya refugees have been found in Thailand and Malaysia. A 2014 Reuters report revealed that some Thai officials had been complicit with smugglers in detaining and extorting Rohingya refugees, demanding more money from their families back home if they wished to survive.


“Much like the Jewish ghettos set up by Nazis around Eastern Europe during World War II, Aung Mingalar has become the involuntary home of thousands of families.” — George Soros

In a prerecorded address broadcast at the Oslo Conference on Rohingyas in late May, billionaire investor, philanthropist and political activist George Soros said that when he visited Myanmar in January for the fourth time in as many years, he went to Aung Mingalar and recognized a ghetto similar to the one he lived in as a child in Budapest in 1944.

“In Aung Mingalar, I heard the echoes of my childhood,” Soros said. “Much like the Jewish ghettos set up by Nazis around Eastern Europe during World War II, Aung Mingalar has become the involuntary home to thousands of families who once had access to health care, education and employment. Now, they are forced to remain segregated in a state of abject deprivation. The parallels to the Nazi genocide are alarming. Fortunately, we have not reached a stage of mass killing.”

Echoes of 1939 — on land and at sea

Ruth Mandel is the longtime director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey. She’s also a member of the USHMM’s Committee on Conscience, and, as an 8-month-old in May 1939, was likely the youngest passenger aboard the MS St. Louis trans-Atlantic ocean liner, which carried 937 passengers, nearly all Jews from Germany and Eastern Europe fleeing Nazi persecution. Mandel was traveling with her mother and father, and the family ended up surviving the war in Great Britain.

The ship and its Jewish refugees were turned away from Cuba on June 2 and soon thereafter from a port in Florida. On June 6, out of options, the ship’s captain, Gustav Schroeder, took the St. Louis back to Europe. About half of the passengers fell under Nazi occupation during the war, and about half of those were murdered by the Nazis.

Does anyone care?

In an email exchange, analyst Joshua Kurlantzick, the Southeast Asia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, made an obvious, yet ultimately unhopeful point, when asked which country — Malaysia, Thailand or the U.S. — should be leading the way in helping the Rohingyas.

His one-word response: “Myanmar.”

The diplomatic tragedy for the Rohingyas is they have never had a critical mass of sympathetic supporters within Burmese society — not even Aung San Suu Kyi, the world-renowned leader of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Suu Kyi has remained silent on the issue, despite a plea the dalai lama made in an interview with The Australian, in which he said Suu Kyi should do more on the Rohingyas' behalf. 

And even as the Burmese government’s gradual movement toward democracy, which began in 2011, has prompted the United States to ease some of its economic sanctions and the European Union to restore full economic trade with Myanmar, Hudson believes the EU is squandering its opportunity to use its leverage to help the Rohingyas. 

“We met with European embassies and, frankly, they are so interested in the bonanza of investment in Myanmar right now that they aren’t doing anything to slow down the access of their companies to get into the Burmese market,” Hudson said. 

Meanwhile, Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Bangladesh are focused on the immediate boat refugee crisis, but not on its cause. “They are not asking Myanmar to deal with the disease. They are simply trying to manage the refugee crisis,” Hudson said.

In 2011, Obama became the first U.S. president since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1955 to send a secretary of state to Myanmar, when Hillary Clinton traveled there. The next year, Obama became the first U.S. president to visit the country, a sign of Washington’s pleasure at the Burmese government’s political reforms, which to date include greater media and economic freedoms, anti-corruption laws and elections. 

Hudson commended the Obama administration for continuing to discuss the Rohingya issue in private discussions with Burmese officials and in public speeches, but the USHMM’s report on its visit to Myanmar called on the U.S., EU and United Nations to use their economic leverage to make future agreements with the Burmese government dependent on its meeting humanitarian and civil rights benchmarks vis-à-vis the Rohingyas. “They’ve gotten a taste for it [foreign economic investment],” Hudson said. “They want more.” 

But beyond economics, for Mandel, who traveled on the St. Louis and went on to serve on the USHMM’s conscience committee, the ongoing tragedy in Myanmar is just the most recent example in a long history of powerless groups that can’t find help from those in power: “The human race doesn’t have a very positive history of arms wide open, reaching out to people who are not in their clan.”


Saw Yan Naing is a Burmese journalist for The Irrawaddy magazine who is currently an Alfred Friendly Fellow at the Jewish Journal.  Jared Sichel is a staff writer for the Journal.

U.S. government believes Malaysia jet hit by surface-to-air missile


A U.S. official said the United States believes a surface-to-air missile brought down the Malaysian airliner that crashed on Thursday in eastern Ukraine, killing all 295 people aboard.

The U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the origin of the missile was unclear. The official declined further comment.

Ukraine accused “terrorists” – militants fighting to unite eastern Ukraine with Russia – of shooting down the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with a heavy Soviet-era SA-11 ground-to-air missile as the plane flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Leaders of the rebel Donetsk People's Republic denied any involvement.

Reporting by Phil Stewart; Writing by Jason Szep; Editing by Bill Trott

Ex-Malaysian PM reasserts Israel ‘rules world by proxy’


Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said there is substance to allegations that he made nearly a decade ago that Israel rules the world by proxy.

Mohamad wrote in his blog at chedet.cc that American candidates must pledge loyalty to Israel or risk losing the elections, the Malaysian national news agency Bernama reported Monday.

“I wonder whether people notice it or not, but presidential candidates of the United States of America, the sole superpower, all have to seek approval from Israel,” Mohamad said on the blog. “Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for president, has just made the pilgrimage, and he has made a public pledge that he will be even tougher against the Palestinians and Iran than Obama.”

Mohamad said he believes that Obama will soon make this pilgrimage and make more promises to fight for Israel, Bernama reported.

“It is not what is good for the United States which counts,” Mohamad said. “One can imagine the policies that will be adopted by whichever government or president wins, and it is clear the United States cannot ignore Israel’s views when reacting to anything of concern to Israel.”

Mohamad, long known for his anti-Semitic views and avid support for the Palestinian cause, said during a summit for the Organization of the Islamic Conference in 2003 that “the Nazis killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million [during the Holocaust]. But today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.”

National sermon in Malaysia calls Jews the ‘main enemy’


The official government sermon delivered in mosques across Malaysia called Jews the “main enemy.”

The sermon, prepared and distributed by the Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department and delivered on March 30, said that “Muslims must understand Jews are the main enemy to Muslims as proven by their egotistical behavior and murders performed by them.”

It also called on community leaders to increase the awareness and understanding of the importance of Jerusalem, referring to it by its Arabic name, al-Quds.

“The honor of al-Quds and the al-Aksa mosque must be defended by all Muslims, as it is holy land that must be blessed,” the sermon said.

The sermon “makes a mockery of Malaysia’s Constitution, which promises that religions other than Islam may be practiced in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said in a statement. “Further, it puts to the lie the repeated calls in international bodies by Malaysia’s prime minister, Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib, for religions to forsake intimidation and violence. It threatens the few Jews in Malaysia and millions beyond its borders.”

The following day, an officially sanctioned state seminar, “Strengthening the Faith, the Dangers of Liberalism and Pluralism and the Threat of Christianity towards Muslims. What is the Role of Teachers?” was convened by the Johor Education Department and the Johor Mufti Department, which required 55 schools to send two religious teachers each to deal with the “threat” of Christians to Malaysian Muslims. 

In light of the two incidents, the Simon Wiesenthal Center announced a travel advisory to Malaysia, calling on its Jewish and Christian supporters “to re-evaluate any travel plans to Malaysia, whether on business or as tourists.”

The center also said it will ask the U.S. State Department to launch its own investigation of state-sponsored religious bigotry in Malaysia.

Israel turns away Malaysian aid ship from Gaza


Israel enforced its naval blockade of Gaza, preventing a Malaysian anti-war group’s ship from reaching the coastal strip.

The Spirit of Rachel Corrie Mission, sponsored by the Perdana Global Peace Foundation, reportedly was carrying plastic sewage pipes to help repair Gaza’s sewer system when it was intercepted Monday in international waters near Gaza, according to reports.

Its crew claimed that Israel’s Navy fired on the ship early Monday morning when it crossed into Gazan waters. Israel denies firing on the ship, which returned to the Egyptian port of El Arish, where the crew reportedly began making arrangements to transfer the aid through the Rafah crossing.

The ship had left a Greek port on May 11 in an attempt to break the blockade. Members of the mission, named for an American pro-Palestinian activist who was run over by an Israeli tank in a controversial accident, were anti-war activists and journalists. Seven Malaysians, two Irish, two Indians and one Canadian passenger participated in the mission.

The foundation told the Bernama Malaysian National News Agency that it preferred to deliver the aid by sea in order to establish Gaza’s right to control its own territorial waters.