Israel called arrogant for denying former Malaysian PM entry
By HERB KEINON
Mahathir Mohamad, the former Malaysian prime minister who said during an anti-Semitic diatribe in 2003 that Jews rule the world by proxy, knocked on Israel's door Tuesday, but was denied access to Jerusalem.
Mahathir said he was held up Monday for nearly an hour by Israeli border officials as he entered the West Bank through the Allenby Bridge from Jordan. He told reporters in the West Bank that he was also told he would not be allowed to enter Jerusalem.
Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak called Israeli's handling of Mahathir's visit as "arrogant," according to the national Bernama news agency. It quoted him as saying: "Jerusalem is not theirs [Israel's]... it is an open town that anyone can visit."
Sources in Jerusalem, however, said that Israel's Foreign Ministry had no idea about the planned visit, and that it seemed that by arriving on the country's doorstep in this manner â€“ without any prior warning or announcement â€“ Mahathir was engaging in "showmanship," and was interested in creating a diplomatic incident.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said he "failed to understand how someone could show up unannounced and then complain that we didn't do anything to facilitate the visit."
At a 2003 Muslim leaders' summit in Malaysia, Mahathir said "the Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million, but today the Jews rule the world by proxy; they get others to fight and die for them." Regev said that despite Mahathir's diatribe, had Israel known of Mahathir's desire to visit, it would have accommodated him.
"He is the former prime minister of Malaysia," Regev said of Mahathir. "Had we known he wanted to arrive, we would have given him the proper VIP treatment. Israel wants to improve its relationships with the Arab and Muslim world, and will do what it can in this regard." Israel and Malaysia have no diplomatic ties.
In March, a "Peace in Palestine" conference was held in Malaysia that called for the establishment of a center there to coordinate a proposed boycott of Israeli products. Five extreme-left Gush Shalom activists from Israel who attended that conference reportedly had to receive special permission from the Malaysian government to enter the country.
Najib, who is also Malaysia's defense minister, said Mahathir wanted to "see the situation in the West Bank for himself during the visit." Mahathir said Israel also barred him from visiting Jenin, where he was to inaugurate a school funded by Malaysia. He was invited to visit the town to tour the destruction there that has resulted from the five years of Palestinian violence.
"I hope one day we can visit Palestine and free Jerusalem," he said.
AP contributed to this report.