Stubborn Mahathir denies Bush rebuke on Jew slur

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 22.10.03

Bangkok, Oct. 21 (Reuters): An unrepentant Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad today repeated his belief that Jews rule the world, denied President George W. Bush had rebuked him for it and hit out at Australian leader John Howard.

Mahathir, who steps down at the end of the month after 22 years in power, told the Bangkok Post in an interview that widespread criticism of his recent remark that “Jews rule the world by proxy” proved he was right.

“The reaction of the world shows that they control the world,” he told the newspaper.

“Israel is a small country. There are not so many Jews in the world. But they are so arrogant, they defy the whole world. Even if the UN says no, they go ahead. Why? Because they have the backing of all these people,” Mahathir said.

Bush called the initial comments — which the outspoken leader of largely Muslim Malaysia said were taken out of context — “wrong and divisive”, White House spokesperson Scott McClellan said.

“It stands squarely against what I believe,” he quoted Bush as telling Mahathir during the annual summit of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Bangkok.

But Mahathir said reports Bush had rebuked him were wrong.

“Certainly, he did not rebuke me,” Mahathir told a news conference after the two-day summit ended. “All he said was that: ‘I regret today to have to use strong words against you’,” Mahathir said.

“After that we were walking practically hand-in-hand.”

The Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Centre said Mahathir’s speech could spur violence against Jews.

“This is incitement against Jews and it provides a rationale and motivation for terror against Jews,” Ephraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Israel, said.

The World Union for Progressive Judaism, an umbrella body grouping liberal and reform Jewish communities around the world, urged acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan to speak out against Mahathir’s “racist remarks”.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, speaking after the interview was published, promised frosty politeness when he met Mahathir on the final day of the summit. “I will maintain cordiality and no more with Dr Mahathir,” he said.

Mahathir, who has always had a prickly relationship with his counterparts from Canberra whom he accuses of trying to be the US’ “deputy sheriff” in Asia, said Howard was merely performing to type.

“There’s a fondness among leaders in Australia, Prime Ministers of Australia, to make nasty comments like calling me recalcitrant, et cetera,” he said.

“John Howard did the same thing, repeatedly, even casting aspersions on our judicial system, as if we do not understand law, we don’t understand fair deal and justice.”

“In fact, we do. We had a very good history of treating our aborigines, for example. We didn’t shoot them dead. We didn’t commit genocide. So when making criticism of other people, please look at your own background and temper it with some humility.”

In the Bangkok Post interview, Mahathir complained that reports of his remarks on Jews last week to an Islamic summit in Malaysia, which the US, the European Union, Australia and others denounced as anti-Semitic, “just picked up one sentence in my speech”. News accounts had ignored his condemnation of all violence, including suicide bombings, and his call on Muslims to heed the teachings of the Quran and talk peace with Israel, he said. Asked why he thought this was the case, Mahathir replied: “Well, many newspapers are owned by Jews. they only see that angle and they have a powerful influence over the thinking of many people. Only their side of the picture is given now.” New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark disputed that. “Having seen the item on television myself, it’s hard to see how you could have misinterpreted it.”

It was a most unfortunate message,” she said.