Anti-Semitic Malaysian PM to speak at Columbia University

Mahathir Mohamad, who once said Jews are "hook-nosed" and "rule this world by proxy" to address students at Columbia University.

Ben Ariel ,

Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad
Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who is notorious for his anti-Semitic statements in the past, is set to address students at Columbia University, as part of its annual world leaders forum, JTA reported on Tuesday.

The Malaysian leader will speak about “the rule of law and multilateralism” and then take questions from the audience at the event on Wednesday, which is held on its Manhattan campus and open to faculty, staff and students, according to the report.

Mohamad, 94, has been serving as prime minister of the southeast Asian country since last year and previously served in the office in 1981-2003.

In 2012, he wrote on his personal blog that “Jews rule this world by proxy.”

Last August, Mohamad defended his right to be anti-Semitic, arguing that anti-Semitism is an artificial construct created to silence critics of the Jews.

In October of 2018, the Malaysian Prime Minister said that Jews are "hook-nosed" and accused them of creating problems in the Middle East.

In June of this year, Mohamad unleashed a stream of anti-Semitic statements during an appearance at Cambridge University.

“I have some Jewish friends, very good friends. They are not like the other Jews, that’s why they are my friends,” Mohamad said in response to a question about previous anti-Jewish statements. The response was met with laughter from some in the audience.

In a previous earlier this year, Malaysia announced that Israeli swimmers would be barred from an upcoming competition that will serve as a qualifying event for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

Mohamad later told an audience of Oxford students that he was denying visas to the Israelis because he disagreed with the actions of the Israeli state.

He later defended his country’s ban on Israeli athletes by likening the move to US President Donald Trump's plan to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.

Among the other nine speakers at the weeklong event are leaders of countries and world organizations, including Austrian Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein, Queen Mathilde of Belgium and Iraqi President Barham Salih.

Three groups on Columbia’s campus — Students Supporting Israel, Aryeh and J Street U — expressed their concerns about Mohamad’s visit to university president Lee Bollinger in a Friday letter, according to JTA.

The organizations said they did not expect the university to cancel the address but that it “ought to show its Jewish students that it cares about their safety.”

The groups also urged Bollinger to contextualize Mohamad’s anti-Semitic remarks in his introduction Wednesday, similarly to how he had introduced former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when the leader spoke at the university in 2007 by mentioning his history of Holocaust denial.

In a Monday response letter to the groups, posted on Facebook by Students Supporting Israel, Bollinger defended Mohamad speaking on campus while also calling the leader’s remarks “abhorrent” and saying he was committed to ensuring Jewish students’ “safety and well-being.”

“Nevertheless, it is in these instances that we are most strongly resolved to insist that our campus remain an open forum and to protect the freedoms essential to our University community,” the university president wrote.

University spokeswoman Caroline Adelman said Columbia had no further statement.