JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel condemned on Thursday Malaysia’s ban on Israeli participation in international sporting events it hosts and said the decision was inspired by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s “rabid anti-Semitism”.
Malaysia, a majority-Muslim country that does not maintain diplomatic relations with Israel, announced it would bar Israelis from any event in the Southeast Asia nation after banning Israeli athletes from the World Para Swimming championships this coming July.
In a statement, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon called on the International Paralympic Committee, which is organizing the competition, to change the venue if it cannot persuade Malaysia to lift the edict.
“This is shameful and totally opposes the Olympic spirit,” the statement said. “Israel condemns the decision, inspired no doubt by Malaysia PM Mahathir’s rabid anti-Semitism.”
Mahathir, 93, has for decades been accused of anti-Semitism for his attacks against Jews. In a BBC interview in October, he described Jews as “hook-nosed” and blamed them for the troubles in the Middle East.
Swimmers from some 70 countries are expected to compete in the July 29-Aug. 4 championships in the eastern state of Sarawak. The event is an important milestone toward next year’s Tokyo Paralympics.
The International Paralympic Committee said in a statement that it was “bitterly disappointed at the stance of the Malaysian government” and the IPC governing board would discuss the matter at a meeting in London next week.
Thousands in Malaysia and neighboring Indonesia took to the streets last December to protest against Washington’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Palestinians want East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, as the capital of a state they seek to establish.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said on Wednesday that Malaysia would continue to take a strong position on the plight of the Palestinians. “It is about fighting on behalf of the oppressed,” he said.
Israeli athletes have been banned in the past by countries that do not recognize Israel. They have also competed at events in Arab countries without national symbols, typically under the flag of the sports federation running the event.
Last year, Israeli athletes participated in a Judo competition in Abu Dhabi under their own flag for the first time. Sports minister Miri Regev wept next to the podium as the Israeli anthem was played after an Israeli won a gold medal.
Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Peter Graff