Putrajaya (Malaysia), Oct. 28 (Reuters): Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad today brushed off a US Senate decision to curb aid to the country on account of recent remarks he made about Jews ruling the world by proxy.
“It doesn’t make any difference to us. We don’t really need that money,” Mahathir said at his office in the administrative capital three days before he steps down from 22 years in power.
The US Senate unanimously agreed yesterday to condition $1.2 million in military training aid to Malaysia on a determination by secretary of state Colin Powell that the country supports and promotes religious freedom, including for Jews.
Malaysia prides itself on being a peaceful multicultural nation, with a 60 per cent Muslim majority, large non-Muslim Chinese and Indian minorities, and hardly any Jews.
The provision was added to an $18 billion foreign aid spending bill, which the Senate is expected to approve this week. While the amount was small, aides said the move should send a message to Malaysia’s government.
President George Bush said he rebuked Mahathir at an Asia-Pacific summit in Bangkok a week ago. The Malaysian leader doesn’t remember it like that.
“It’s the biggest lie. If he had rebuked me, I’m quite sure I would have rebuked him also,” Mahathir was quoted as saying by the state-run news agency Bernama at the weekend.
The 78-year-old provoked sharp criticism from Western governments and Israel this month for comments at a meeting of the world’s Islamic leaders.
“The Europeans killed six million Jews out of 12 million. But today, the Jews rule this world by proxy,” he said.
His words evoked old demons of European anti-semitism, and western governments, including Israel, joined a chorus of condemnation.
But the set-piece speech by Mahathir, viewed as a moderate Muslim, mainly castigated his fellow faithful for centuries of backwardness and introspection in the face of modernisation.
He replied to critics at the time with accusations of double standards on what can be said about Jews and Muslims, and was equally unrepentant today about US senators.
“They want to dictate (to) the world. We are all being run by the US Senate, it’s no good having our own elections. We better elect (vote) in the US elections and we can be sure we get the right representatives,” he said, laughing.
The US House of Representatives passed its version of the foreign aid spending bill in July, so it does not contain any aid restriction. The two bills will have to be reconciled.
Some analysts believe Washington could hurt its own interests if it alienated Malaysia through this largely symbolic gesture.
“It is a model of moderate Islam,” said Brad Glosserman, of the Pacific Forum CSIS think tank based in Hawaii, adding that Malaysia served as an example for Muslim participation in government beyond Southeast Asia.
Carl Thayer, analyst at the Australian Defence College in Canberra, said undermining the military-to-military relationship, which was one of the strongest ties between the two countries, was an odd way to treat an ally.
“The US could be shooting itself in the foot when it wants cooperation in the war on terror,” he said.