UK Muslim leaders ‘inspired’ by antisemitic ex-Malaysian prime minister

Mahathir Mohamad, who described Jews as 'hook-nosed', embraced by Islamic leaders on visit to Britain


SELANGOR, MALAYSIA - NOVEMBER 02: Former Malaysia Prime Minister and founder of the Gerakan Tanah Air (Homeland Movement) coalition Mahathir Mohamad laughs as he leaves a candidate announcement ceremony ahead of the 15th General Election at Bangi Convention Centre on November 02, 2022 in Selangor, Malaysia. At age 97, former Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is the country’s longest-serving PM, and the world’s oldest leader. He held the post for 24 years, from 1981 to 2003 and then from 2018 to 2020. Being one of the region’s best known political figures, the two-time Malaysia PM is campaigning for his final election, where he will be contesting as the head of a new coalition ‘Gerakan Tanah Air’ (Homeland Movement) and defending his parliamentary seat aged nearly 100, placing him in the rare category of politicians who are still contributing to their countries at an advanced age. With the support of his wife, Siti Hasmah, and an array of young operatives who help him understand the younger parts of the electorate, Mahathir’s team says his mission is to complete the struggle to steer Malaysia away from the destructive political dynamics that have fueled corruption and division in the nation. Malaysia will hold its general elections on November 19, to decide which coalition should lead their country for the next four years. (Photo by Annice Lyn/Getty Images)

A former prime minister of Malaysia who banned Schindler’s List and described Jews as “hook-nosed” has been embraced by leading Muslim organisations during a tour of Britain.

Mahathir Mohamad, 98, who visited the UK last month, has said he is “glad to be labelled antisemitic” and that sympathy for Holocaust victims is “wasted and misplaced”.

Speaking in 2003, he said: “We [Muslims] are actually very strong, 1.3 billion people cannot be simply wiped out.

“The Europeans killed six million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.” Despite his history of racist comments, Mohamad was greeted as an honoured guest by British institutions and Muslim groups on a visit to the UK last month.

During the trip, Mohamed, his country the country’s longest-serving prime minister, having led the nation for 22 years from 1981 and again between 2018 and 2020, delivered an “exclusive private briefing” at think tank Asia House and attended an event with British Muslim community and business leaders.

The organisers, UK-based Islam Channel — which in 2020 was fined £20,000 by Ofcom for broadcasting “antisemitic hate speech” — said: “We were all inspired by the insightful conversations and impactful moments shared by one of the world’s esteemed leaders.”

The broadcaster’s founder, Mohamed Ali Harrath, who interviewed Mohamad, told the politician: “We can’t see you passing by London without seizing the opportunity to speak to you and benefit from your wisdom.”

Mohamad also held a meeting to discuss “governance, development, civilisation, leadership” with a group that included Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of the Finsbury Park Mosque and a former vice president of the Muslim Association of Britain.

On Facebook, Kozbar wrote he was “honoured” to meet the Malaysian leader. He added: “What an inspirational figure, a fruitful and constructive dialogue about Muslims in the West, I really benefited from his wisdom and experience.”

The former leader also visited Cardiff, where he held a “lunchtime lecture” at the Dar Ul-Isra Mosque hosted by the Muslim Council of Wales.

The group said it was “honoured” by Mohamad’s visit saying he delivered an “inspiring” lecture.

He also visited the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK at Cardiff University, where he was presented with a Welsh translation of the Quran etched onto slate.

As Malaysia’s prime minister, Mohamad sparked regular diplomatic controversies as result of his inflammatory comments on Jews and Israel.

In March 1994, under his leadership, Malaysian censors banned Steven Spielberg’s Shoah drama Schindler’s List.

Asked about claims that the film was blocked due to antisemitism, Mohamad reportedly said: “I am not antisemitic but I am anti-Zionist expansionism and the conquest of Arab territories by the Zionists.”

In 2018, during his second term of office, he called Israelis “special”, Mahathir challenged historical accounts that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, saying the figure was 4 million.

He later said: “So I accept that there was a Holocaust, that there were many Jews killed, and in fact at one time I was very sympathetic towards them during the war…”

In his book The Malay Dilemma he decribed Jews as “hook-nosed”, saying: “They are hook-nosed. Many people called the Malays fat-nosed. We didn’t object, we didn’t go to war for that.”

Addressing the UN general assembly in New York, Mahathir said the world “rewards Israel” for breaking international laws and committing acts of terrorism against Palestinians.

He later added: “If you are going to be truthful, the problem in the Middle East began with the creation of Israel. That is the truth. But I cannot say that.”

In 2019, he told the Cambridge Union: “I have some Jewish friends, very good friends, they are not like the other Jews, that’s why they are my friends.”

Mahathir Mohamad, Asia House, the Islam Channel, Mohammed Kozbar, the Muslim Council of Wales, and the Centre for the Study of Islam have been contacted for comment

A Cardiff University spokesperson said: “A roundtable event attended by the former Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad was held at Cardiff University in June.

"The event was jointly organised by the Muslim Council of Wales, Perdana Foundation, and the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK and attended by a range of civil society Muslim leaders from across Cardiff.

"It’s important to stress that the event was focused on a variety of subjects including development and leadership.

"At no point were such comments made nor were they a focus of any discussion. For the avoidance of doubt, the hosting of the former Prime Minister is not in any way an endorsement of the antisemitic comments attributed to the former Prime Minister and we condemn such comments in the strongest possible terms.”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive