KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, April 25 (JTA) — He may think the Muslim world should unite to defeat the Jews, but that doesn’t mean Palestinians killing Israelis is the way to solve the problems of the Middle East.
Several months after Malaysia’s then-prime minister, Mahathir Mohammed, garnered international headlines by saying “Jews rule the world by proxy” and the Muslim world should unite to defeat them, Mahathir agreed to sit down with an Israeli journalist to clarify his views.
In the unusual interview, Mahathir said he doesn’t think Palestinian suicide bombings “solve any problem.”
“It is far better for them to sit down and think,” Mahathir said. “It is a question of revenge. Because you kill my people, I will kill your people, and because your people are killed you kill my people. And it keeps on going like that.”
But Mahathir still had plenty of criticism for the Israelis.
“Israel is not a friendly country and we shouldn’t do business with Israel,” the former Malaysian prime minister said. He also called Israel’s killing of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin “an act of terror.”
Mahathir used the interview opportunity to dispute his being labeled as anti-Semitic.
Mahathir caused a stir with his seemingly anti-Jewish comments during last year’s meeting of the Organization of Islamic Countries, which took place just before Mahathir retired after 22 years as the leader of Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country.
“They must never think they are the chosen people who cannot be criticized at all,” Mahathir said of the Jews.
In the interview with Israel’s Channel 10 television station, Mahathir said, “I feel that I have a right to explain myself to the world and to the Israelis because I find myself being misinterpreted all the time, labeled as anti-Jew.”
“When we talk about the Jews, principally we think of those Jews who are very supportive of Israeli intransigence, not all Jews. Because we know there are Jews living in Muslim countries — even in Iran they still have Jews. These people are not supporting the kind of attacks mounted by Israelis.”
Mahathir said Israel should not use the Holocaust as an excuse for aggression against others.
“You cannot use that as an excuse to attack other people or to kill other people or that people should not criticize Israel simply because in the past there had been this Holocaust.”
Mahathir granted the interview in an office on the 41st floor of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
When asked about trade between Malaysia and Israel, which according to Israel amounted to $300 million during 2003, Mahathir said, “We don’t trade directly with Israel. We export a lot of our products to Singapore and Singapore then sells these products to other countries. In our figures of trade there is not a single dollar that is coming from trade with Israel.”
Malaysia and Israel do not have diplomatic ties. But Mahathir said that establishing relations between the two countries would be possible once Israel resolves its problem with the Palestinians.
“Malaysia is a trading nation we are always looking for markets. Israel has got a lot of knowledge in technology and agriculture,” he said.
At the end of the interview, Mahathir said, “We wish the Israeli people and the Jewish people peace, hopefully in their lifetime, but to have peace they should also think of the other people’s problems, not only their own.”
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