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Anwar Ibrahim: Not the Bright Spot We’d Hoped For

Posted By Rachel Motte On June 30, 2010 @ 4:24 pm In Foreign Affairs,Global War on Terrorism,Other Religions,Politics,Religion,Religious Liberty,Social Justice | 5 Comments

As Israel struggles to defend itself, Islamist voices around the world still stridently condemn the Jewish state for stopping the flotilla bringing aid to Hamas. Shockingly, one of those voices is Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim — the former media darling and favorite of the foreign-policy teams of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

In a remarkable development, B’nai B’rith International has urged the U.S. to end its relationship with Anwar, citing his “…anti-Jewish and anti-Israel slanders, such as his April 30 assertion that Israeli spies are ‘directly involved in the running of the government,’” and his active role in sparking the recent resurgence of anti-Semitic sentiments in Malaysian politics.  In a letter addressed to the State Department, the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations, and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the venerable organization argued that “[a] purveyor of anti-Jewish hatred such as Ibrahim should not enjoy the measure of legitimacy that a positive relationship with the United States would confer upon him.”

Statements like these are symptomatic of a larger resurgence of anti-Semitism in Malaysian politics—a resurgence that Anwar himself has helped spark.  While the current Malaysian leadership is eager to be counted among our Muslim-majority allies, Anwar and his party are another story.  Anwar, who was long mentored by the publicly anti-American anti-Semite Mahathir Mohammed, has continued Mahathir’s legacy despite having been disowned by him in the late 1990’s.  Anwar’s conspiracy-theory laden charges of Israel’s secret takeover of the Malaysian Police IT unit bear all the marks of Mahathir’s influence—and he isn’t stopping there.

At the “Justice and Peace for Gaza” roundtable in Malaysia on June 4th, Anwar continued his anti-Semitic verbal assaults by attacking an American public relations firm, previously hired for minor work by the Malaysian Prime Minister, as an agent of Jewish influence: the firm, Anwar said, is “able to influence the oldest Jewish body to attack me personally… and to ask [other] countries, mainly the United States, to consider me an enemy because I’m seen as an enemy of Israel.”  Anwar declared that he was being subjected to retribution for his previous statements before the Malaysian Parliament, in which he claimed that Jews were working to manipulate Malaysian policy for America’s benefit.

Purveyors of anti-Semitism are often dealers in anti-Americanism, and Anwar Ibrahim is no exception.  He went on to attack President Obama, telling some one hundred Malaysians at the roundtable, “Obama is weak. He only said that he ‘regretted’ the attack [on the Gaza flotilla] when we actually need action.” This theme of weakness in the face of alleged Jewish interests was a continuation of one Anwar advanced several weeks back, when he accused the Malaysian government of bending to Jewish pressure in participating in sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program.

Statements like this make it clear that in asking the U.S. government and policymakers to end their erstwhile cordial relationships with the Malaysian opposition leader, B’nai B’rith is doing us a significant favor. There is simply no place for American engagement with traffickers in anti-Semitism, for both moral and pragmatic reasons.  Withdrawing support from Anwar will not solve the problem of world-wide anti-Semitism, but it will help put America on the right side of the issue.  If American policy makers choose to distance themselves from Anwar and his anti-Jewish hate speech, perhaps they will also distance themselves from others whose foul rhetoric we have wrongfully ignored.

While Anwar has spent years polishing a genteel Western image, his conduct and associations in Malaysia prove that he is every bit the sort of anti-American radical the U.S. must avoid.  Anti-Semitic statements like the ones B’nai B’rith has condemned show that Anwar’s public stances on major issues like race and foreign policy vary wildly depending on his own political needs.  And, despite his recent acceptance at places like Johns Hopkins University, where he was invited to teach for a year in their School for Advanced International Studies, he is quick to link his own anti-Semitism with anti-Americanism.

When asked about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict he told CNN, “Stoking the flames of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism is a good distraction from the stench in their own backyard, namely rampant corruption, denial of basic human rights, abuse of power and the suppression of civil society.”

Most Americans failed to realize that he was describing this as a useful strategy, not condemning it.  We overlook it at our own peril, however, as our eager search for bright spots in a largely unwelcoming Islamic populace makes it all too easy for our policy makers to rest contented when they think they’ve found what they’re looking for.

The Obama administration will have to keep this in mind as it seeks to strengthen relations with the Islamic world in general and Malaysia in particular.  It’s not always easy to tell the difference between our friends and our enemies among the people of the Muslim faith, but in Anwar’s case the problems are clear to anyone willing to pay attention. ‘


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