| Mahathir Mohamad
Kuala Lumpur, Oct. 30 (Reuters): Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, speaking on the eve of his retirement, said today that the Jewish people’s past sufferings in Europe were no excuse for taking Arab land and persecuting Muslims.
The 78-year-old Muslim leader, who steps down tomorrow after 22 years in power, provoked howls of protest two weeks ago by saying that the Jews had emerged from the Holocaust to “rule this world by proxy.”
A staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, Mahathir said the Jews were now guilty of persecuting Muslims in the same way that Europeans had persecuted Jews down the ages.
“They must never think they are the chosen people who cannot be criticised at all,” Mahathir said today when asked if he had one last message for the world’s Jews.
His October 16 speech to leaders of Islamic nations had centred on the need for Muslims to join the modern world, use their brains, make peace and stamp out suicide bombing.
It also contained grudging admiration for the way Jews had prospered despite their persecution, but the comment on their world influence evoked memories in the West of the conspiracy theories used in Czarist Russia and Nazi Germany to whip up anti-semitism. But Mahathir said the past suffering of Jews was a source of sadness for Muslims. “They suffered a great deal in the past. They were killed, they were massacred,” he said.
“We sympathise with them. We were very sad to see how the Jews were so ill-treated by the Europeans.”
Mahathir denies being anti-Semitic and says he has Jewish friends, but in his controversial speech he failed to draw any distinction between Jews, Israelis and Zionists.
He reiterated today that the root problem between Jews and Muslims was the occupation of Arab land to form the state of Israel. “It is not religion at all. It is territorial. You take somebody’s land and they will fight for it.”