Malaysian Government Deploys Anti-Semitism

The governing party of Malaysia used anti-Semitic propaganda to try to turn public opinion against an opposition leader when he was running for parliament.

The United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which has dominated parliament for over half a century, circulated a pamphlet alleging that former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was "surrounded by Jews," The New York Times reported. It included pictures of him with two former World Bank presidents, Paul Wolfowitz and James Wolfensohn.

"These are the only weapons that UMNO can use against Anwar — relying on xenophobia to sustain its support," Tian Chua, a member of parliament and an adviser to Anwar, told the Times.

The strategy failed. Anwar, who in 2008 was named one of Time's 100 most influential people, won the parliamentary seat in a landslide on Aug. 26. At press time, he was poised to break the governing party's stronghold after enough of their members defected to the opposition.

Although the pamphlet targeting Anwar was particularly ugly, anti-Semitism isn't new to Malaysia, which has a tiny Jewish population. In October 2003, at a gathering of leaders at the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad made an anti-Jewish remark that was greeted with loud applause. "The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million," Mahathir said, "but today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them."

Two decades earlier, Mahathir had cancelled a visit by the New York Philharmonic after learning that they planned to perform a piece by a Jewish composer. He also initially barred the acclaimed film "Schindler's List" from being shown in Malaysia because, he said, its purpose was to garner sympathy for Jews. Furthermore, he has made speeches accusing Zionists of controlling the media and trying to wreck the country's economy.