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COMMENT | Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is said to have raised concerns about anti-Semitism in his meeting in Vienna with Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Bearing in mind the horrific culmination of European anti-Semitism during World War Two, we empathise with his legitimate fears of the ideology rearing its ugly head anywhere.

However, we would like to point out that anti-Semitism is a phenomenon peculiar to Europe and other Western societies, but not to Asia.

The anti-Israel movement in Malaysia, of which Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Malaysia (BDS Malaysia) is part, is not in any way anti-Semitic.

Just like the Austrian chancellor, we abhor all forms of anti-Semitism and do not wish to be associated with any of them.

We have no problem whatsoever with anyone of Jewish origin or, for that matter, any ethnicity. One’s ethnicity is no more and no less than an accident of birth.

But we do have problems with Zionists – whether they are of Jewish descent or not – because of Zionist Israel’s unrelenting persecution of the Palestinian people over the past seven decades.

The barring of Israelis from our country cannot be interpreted as a form of anti-Semitism. We do it because we do not want to be exploited by the Zionist propaganda machine as an example of a Muslim-majority country which accepts and tolerates the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians people.

Our boycott of Israel continues because of this and because of our support for the Palestinian cause.

We have never been anti-Jewish at any level. Jews who are vocal critics of Israel, such as Miko Peled, Peter Slezak, Anna Baltzer and the leader of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, Zohar Regev, have visited Malaysia.

In fact, Peled’s visit was hosted by Mahathir himself. So much for the prime minister’s ‘anti-Semitism’.

We would respectfully direct Kurz’s attention to the following concerns. Having declared Austria to be a friend and partner of Israel, is that an endorsement or moral support for the apartheid policies of the Israeli government against Palestinians?

If it is not, Austria should speak up and publicly object to those policies. What are friends for if they do not point out the error of one’s ways? If it is, then Austria is in no position to lecture others about the racist nature of anti-Semitism.

The Israeli government, for self-serving reasons, is in the habit of branding all criticism of its actions and policies as anti-Semitic.

While an anti-Semite correctly means a person who does not like Jews, it is now becoming to mean a person whom the Israeli government dislikes. Such is the ease with which it uses that accusation against its critics.

Kurz should be mindful that in his opposition to anti-Semitism he does not become an unwitting party to such dishonest attempts to stifle free speech and legitimate criticisms of Israeli actions.

The Israeli government claims to speak and act in the name of all Jews in the world, despite clear evidence that it does not.

This deliberate conflation of ‘Jew’ and ‘Israeli’ – especially involving Israeli actions which are clear violations of the human rights of Palestinians – plays no small part in fuelling anti-Semitism.

Rising anti-Semitism suits the Israeli government, since it leads to higher Jewish emigration to Israel. They even have the audacity to demand US$250 billion (RM1.03 trillion) from eight Arab countries for the emigration of Jewish people since the birth of Israel in 1948.

Lisa Kokin, in her 1978 artwork for the Jewish Alliance Against Zionism, sums it well: “Being Jewish is not the same as being Zionist. Our own history of persecution as Jews helps us to understand the struggle of the Palestinians to determine their own destiny.”

NAZARI ISMAIL is the chairperson of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Malaysia.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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