January 19, 2020

ADL, AJC Condemn Columbia for Hosting Malaysian PM’s ‘Brand of Anti-Semitic Scapegoating’

Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad reacts during a news conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia, September 18, 2019. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and American Jewish Committee (AJC) are among those condemning Columbia University for scheduling Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to speak on Sept. 25.

Mohamad’s history of comments regarding Jews includes writing in a 2012 blog post that he’s “glad to be labeled anti-Semitic” and saying at Cambridge Union in June, “I have some Jewish friends, very good friends. They are not like the other Jews, that’s why they are my friends.” Malaysia also banned Israeli athletes from participating in the 2019 Para Swimming World Championships, causing the tournament to be moved elsewhere.

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted, “For decades, Mahathir Mohamad has blamed Jews for Malaysia’s & the world’s ills, recently at Oxford & Cambridge Universities. Among almost 200 heads of state in NY this week, it’s a shame that the @Columbiavcommunity chose to feature him on their stage.”

He added in a follow-up tweet that Columbia should “communicate unequivocally that his brand of #antiSemitic scapegoating and hate is loathsome and unacceptable.”

The American Jewish Committee similarly tweeted that Mohamad has a history of “unabashedly spreading anti-Semitism” and they “stand with the school’s Jewish students and all who oppose his visit.”

Students Supporting Israel Columbia started a petition earlier in the month urging University President Lee Bollinger to either cancel the speech altogether or condemn Mohamad’s “vile and anti-Semitic remarks” on stage.

“By allowing him to give an address on campus, Columbia is not protecting Mohamad’s right to free speech,” the petition states. “Rather, it is granting the credibility of one of America’s most prestigious universities to a vile anti-Semite and shakes even further the already fragile sense of safety and belonging of Columbia’s Jewish students.”

Judea Pearl, chancellor professor of computer science at UCLA, National Academy of Sciences member and Daniel Pearl Foundation president, tweeted, “I join Columbia University students call on President Bollinger to issue a denunciation of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, saying: ‘I can’t stop you from speaking, but it’s my duty to tell you that you are not welcome in this University. Your values are not ours.’”

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder also weighed in, telling the New York Post in a statement that the university’s decision to host Mohamad isn’t surprising given that they “hosted the Jew-hating president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad” in 2007.

“Columbia University should be ashamed of themselves,” Lauder said. “It is no surprise that incidents of anti-Semitism are on the rise in New York City when it is being preached from the stages of one of its premier universities.”

Bollinger told the Post, “I find the anti-Semitic statements of Prime Minister Mahathir to be abhorrently contrary to what we stand for, and deserving condemnation.” However, he argued that to cancel the event would “limit severely our capacity to understand and confront the world as it is, which is a central and utterly serious mission for any academic institution.”