Malaysian PM At Columbia: ‘Why Is It That I Can’t Say Something Against the Jews’?

September 25, 2019
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah hold publication of the Foreign Policy Framework in Putrajaya, Malaysia, September 18, 2019. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad defended his prior remarks on the Holocaust and Jews while speaking at a Sept. 25 event at Columbia University, arguing that it was an example of free speech.

During the question-and-answer session, a Students Supporting Israel (SSI) Columbia board member pointed out that Mohamad has questioned if six million Jews died during the Holocaust, and gloated about being called an anti-Semite. She then asked him to clarify his stance on the Holocaust.

“I am exercising my right to free speech,” Mohamad said. “Why is it that I can’t say something against the Jews when a lot of people say nasty things about me and about Malaysia and I didn’t protest?”

Mohamad added that he accepts that the Holocaust occurred, but claimed that there are varying statistics on the number of Jews that died. He also said he was once “sympathetic” toward the Jews during World War II and mentioned that he was alive during that period while the SSI member wasn’t.

“My grandmother was in the Holocaust,” the SSI member interjected. “So she was around.” Mahathir then replied, “Thank you. I think I’ve said enough.”

Mohamad posted his free speech defense to Twitter, prompting Claire Voltaire to respond, “You’re an anti-Semite and allowed to be one. In the same way we’re allowed to point and show disgust.”

Before Mohamad started speaking, Columbia University Senior Adviser to Foreign Affairs Vishaka Desai introduced him as “a figure of significance.” However, she pointed out Mohamad has a history of “anti-Semitic statements” and that Malaysia banned Israeli athletes from participating at the 2019 Para Swimming World Championships.

“Such attitudes are absolutely contrary to what we stand for,” Desai said. She then highlighted University President Lee Bollinger’s statement that while “the anti-Semitic statements of Prime Minister Mahathir to be abhorrently contrary to what we stand for,” it’s important “to understand and confront the world as it is, which is a central and utterly serious mission for any academic institution.”

SSI Columbia thanked Desai in a Facebook post for calling out Mohamad.

“We are very grateful that she stressed that although hosting him, Columbia does not support such anti-Semitic statements,” they wrote.

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