Malaysia’s outspoken prime minister refused Friday to apologize for a speech in which he said Jews ruled the world, and he accused Western countries of using a double standard for criticizing Jews and Muslims.
“Lots of people make nasty statements about us, about Muslims,” Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said. “People call Muslims terrorists, they even say ... Muhammad the prophet was a terrorist.
“People make such statements, and they seem to get away with it. But if you say anything at all against the Jews, you are accused of being anti-Semitic,” Mahathir said at a news conference after the close of a summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the world’s largest Muslim body.
Mahathir was reacting to a wave of condemnation over his speech to the summit Thursday, in which he said: “The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million. But today Jews rule this world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.”
In his speech, Mahathir used allegations of Jewish dominance to underscore his chief point: that Muslims need to embrace modern knowledge and technology and overcome divisions over religious dogma that have left them weakened globally.
Mahathir said Muslims had achieved nothing in more than 50 years of fighting Israel. He also said the world’s more than 1 billion Muslims “cannot be defeated by a few million Jews.”
Mahathir, 77, a senior statesman in the developing world who will retire Oct. 31 after 22 years in power, has long taken pride in calling things the way he sees them. He is a staunch advocate of the Palestinians and strongly opposed the war in Iraq. He has also jailed terrorism suspects from the Al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah group.
The U.S., Canada, the European Union, Israel, Germany, Britain and Australia all condemned Mahathir’s remarks about Jews. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli called the speech offensive and inflammatory.
But Mahathir was unapologetic and said at the news conference that he opposed terrorism, suicide bombings and Israel’s policy of massive retaliation in response to Palestinian violence. “What I said in my speech is that we should stop all this violence,” he said, noting that historically, Jews had sought refuge in Muslim lands to escape persecution in Europe.
But since Israel was established half a century ago, he said, “there seems to be no more peace in the Middle East.”
Mahathir was simply telling it like it is, Arab leaders said.
“I don’t think [the comments] are anti-Semitic at all. I think he was stating the facts,” Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubakr al Qerbi said.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher added: “There are people wanting to create trouble, invent problems that do not exist. I would advise them to read the whole speech.”