Us and Israel, a love hate relationship
By Hafidz Baharom
We have been against Israel since Tunku Abdul Rahman declared them persona non grata in 1965. However, we have been on and off again trying to establish relations with Israel since the 1990s, dependent on whatever happens in their relationship with Palestine.
Thus, having Israelis come to Malaysia, even to attend a United Nations (UN) conference will earn you brickbats when you are the government. In the most recent case, an Israeli delegation made its way into Kuala Lumpur for the UN World Urban Forum (WUF9) which was held two weeks ago.
Thus, what has somehow become a matter taken advantage of by Pakatan Harapan, is truly after the fact that it had happened. It really is an easy target to whack anyone about voicing an anti-Israeli stance. I would know, I have done it before for a column on a now defunct online portal in February 2012.
And the truth is that while Malaysia does not recognise Israel to the point of having the words printed in all our passports, business, trade and even sports, are a different story.
We have been trading with Israel for quite some time, due to one major company – Intel.
On top of this, having a delegation enter under the auspices of the UN for an international event attended by leaders from all over the world is no big deal. After all, we have had Israelis in our nation long before this.
In 1997, when Tun Mahathir Mohamed and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim were holding the prime minister and deputy prime minister posts respectively, we had an entire Israeli cricket team come over to compete for the International Cricket Championship (ICC) trophy.
And Mahathir himself has admitted that times were calmer back then to allow such to happen, but Malaysians are now angry at Israelis over Palestine.
This was made rather clear to the Chelsea Football Club in 2011, when they had a friendly football game with our national team. Their Israeli player Yossi Benayoun was booed on the field, which subsequently led our country to be facing complaints from FIFA.
In the same year, we had Ilya Grad, an Israeli based in Thailand enter Malaysia to take part in AXN’s The Contender Muay Thai reality show. Again, we did not know about it until after the fact. And again, it was made into a political campaign.
In 2012, PKR’s Anwar Ibrahim went on the record to state that it was time to end the sanctions and start talking to Israel – if the peace and security of Israel guarantees justice for Palestinians, then it should be supported.
Unfortunately, this was marketed politically by Umno that if Pakatan won the general election in 2013, Israel would open up a consulate in Kuala Lumpur.
Subsequently in 2015, we had refused entry to Israeli athletes for international events such as Youth Sailing World Championship and the Table Tennis Championship in 2016.
And let’s come back into current times and recap. We still trade with Israel, have a Barisan Nasional government that allowed an Israeli delegation into an international forum under the auspices of UN, and is currently being pressured by the Opposition which is headed by a prime minister who allowed an entire cricket team to enter in 1997.
At the same time, Pakatan Harapan also has two former deputy ministers from Umno in their ranks in 2011, with Mukhriz Mahathir as former deputy minister for international trade (MITI), and Saifuddin Abdullah as former deputy minister for higher education (MOHE) – when Israeli sports stars were allowed into Malaysia.
Ask them if they protested back then since they both had a voice and posts in Cabinet. So why are they now both objecting to it. Ask Pakatan if Anwar’s words of wanting peace with Israel are now moot, since they are throwing up a fuss about it.
For myself personally, all this mudslinging makes me want to ask both sides this – what exactly are you recommending in terms of foreign policy?
It seems like the Barisan Nasional government is willing to go on a case by case basis in allowing Israelis in, either from a sports perspective or a foreign delegation for a UN conference. Though more likely, their decision seems to be based on political capital.
Thus, what is Pakatan Harapan’s would be policy for Israelis if they want to enter Malaysia on the same basis? Will they block every Israeli sports team and athlete from coming into the nation and lose recognition from whatever international sporting association?
See, it is easy to whack the government, but it is always hard when you ask their politicians to give a clean cut answer of either yes or no. If there is a problem with Pakatan Harapan, it is the same one they have had since 2013 – highlighting a problem without a solution, which is a problem half solved.
As for myself, I believe to encourage someone to reach peace, would require talking to them directly rather than talking over them to everyone else. And Malaysians are Malaysians, who would rather love to gossip and backstab others rather than talk about it face to face.
Look at our political scene and the supporters on both, and tell me otherwise.