Malaysia continues to defend its bans on Israeli athletes

Malaysia’s Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq has clarified that he is not out to penalise all Israeli people for the actions of their government against Palestinians.

He was referring to Malaysia’s refusal to allow Israeli athletes into Malaysia to compete at the World Para-Swimming Championships being held in Sarawak in July this year. He said that protecting the rights of the Palestinian is more important than a sporting event.

Speaking on the BBC programme HARDtalk, Mr Saddiq added, “If hosting an international event is more important than safeguarding the interest of our Palestinian brothers and sisters who have been mutilated time and time again, if that is more important, than we have lost our moral conscience and our moral compass.”

He described the state of Israel as being ‘the locus of our collective moral actions’, and said that while not all Israelis are to be blamed for the conflict with Palestine, similarly not all Palestinians are responsible for the aggression of some.

Mr Saddiq emphasised that he does stand to penalise people based on their ethnicity but rather their actions. He further elaborated that he does not condone the actions taken by Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against Palestinians.

“I’m against the atrocities by the Netanyahu government. It is the actions which I stand firmly against, not the race of persons but their actions,” he said.

In the context of Malaysia, Mr Saddiq explained that Malaysia will always speak up against human rights violations, no matter the ‘consequences’ and that the country is ‘progressive’ and stands for the rule of law.

Malaysia’s stance on the matter of not allowing entry to Israeli athletes and thus preventing them from participating in the World Para-Swimming Championships have stirred up criticism from leaders around the world, with the Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir being accused of being anti-Semitic.

In Vienaa on Tuesday (22 Jan), Dr Mahathir asserted Malaysia’s right to refuse entry to athletes from a ‘criminal country’ like Israel. Drawing a comparison to Trump’s US-Mexico border wall, he said Malaysia has just as much a right as the US to keep out undesirables or terrorists.

“People who are undesirable for our country must be kept out and this includes people suspected of being terrorists and the like…We have that right and we must exercise that right,” Dr Mahathir said in a press conference.

He voiced similar assertions at the Oxford Union during the Q&A session when asked about his country’s stance on Israel.

Following the ban on Israeli athlete entering Malaysia, the government has also decided to prohibit Israeli representatives from entering the country for any kind of programme in the future and will also not host any future programmes that involve Israeli participation.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah made the announcement in a speech after receiving a joint memorandum from 43 NGOs in support of the Malaysian government’s decision to ban Israeli athletes from entering the country, in tandem with Malaysia’s stance of not having any diplomatic relations with Israel as a protest against Israel’s policies against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.