A war of words have erupted among Malaysian opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, and several top government officials, including his former mentor Mahathir Mohamad, on Malaysia’s policy on Israel, potentially touching a raw nerve on the country’s Muslim-majority population.
Anwar, who was acquitted of sodomy charges just barely a month ago, was quoted as having declared support to protect the state of Israel’s security to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) via an interview that was published last Thursday.
Since then, his comments on Israel were heavily played up by the local media- mainly owned by the government- and had come under fire for making seemingly politically incorrect statements on the country’s foreign policies.
The topic of Israel is a particularly touchy subject in Malaysia, mainly due to Muslim-majority population that are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. Malaysia does not recognize the state of Israel and therefore, has no diplomatic relations with the state.
Anwar’s heated exchange with his political rivals started after he was quoted by the local media in a response to the question posed by WSJ on whether or not he would open diplomatic ties with Israel by stating his “support” for “efforts” to protect the security of the state of Israel while at the same time, back the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.
To this, he was quoted as saying: “Some refuse to recognise the state of Israel…but I think our policy should be clear- protect the security (of Israel) but you must be as firm in protecting the legitimate interests of Palestinians.”
Later, Anwar was made to clarify his stand in which he said that the remarks were consistent with the two-state solution that is accepted by the Arab world, as well as Malaysia and Hamas, the Palestinian government.
“I am issuing a stern warning to anyone trying to twist my statement just so that they can say that I have betrayed the aspirations of the Palestinian people,” Anwar said via a press statement, adding that his party’s stand is to defend the rights of whoever it is that has been victimised.