Malaysia’s Decision to Bar Israeli Athletes Was Much Needed

The Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahathir Mohamed during his 2018 general assembly UN speech. Photo via Youtube.

By Yousef Aljamal

Malaysia has historically been a strong supporter of the Palestinian people who experienced and continue to experience colonization, military occupation and many forms of discrimination for over 100 years.

In fact, it has always been Malaysia’s policy to support the Palestinian people, who have suffered immensely due to the ongoing Zionist colonization project in Palestine, which resulted in establishing Israel on the ruins of Palestinian homes.

Support for Palestine has been expressed under different Malaysian governments, most notably under the administrations of Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who has always been vocal in his criticism of Israel’s discriminatory and militant policies.

Palestine has always enjoyed the support of ordinary Malaysians, who exhibited their strong solidarity, often in emotional ways, during times of Israeli wars on the Gaza Strip in 2008-9, 2012 and 2014.

Islam and its shared values among Palestinians and Malaysians have always played a big part in the existing rapport between both nations.

However, due to existing ethnic tensions in the country, solidarity with the Palestinian people, has, at times, seemed confined to the Malay Muslim community.

While such a truth remains paramount, perspectives began to change in recent years, as Chinese and Indian communities developed a keener understanding of the situation in Palestine. Therefore, seeing Chinese and Indian activists at the forefront of Palestine solidarity in Malaysia is no longer a rare event. A reason behind this important shift is the fact that the approach of solidarity itself evolved from a religious-based appeal to a human-rights based one.

The year 2015 saw the first Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) conference in the country, held at the University of Malaya, where the importance of boycott as a political tool for change was stressed and thoroughly discussed.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that a radical shift started on that very date. More Malaysians engaged with the BDS movement then, launching campaigns against HP, G4S and other international companies involved in facilitating Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Therefore, the decision by Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, to ban Israeli athletes is a rational step in that direction.

Last year, Malaysians voted in historical elections that changed their government to what many Malaysians hoped would be in the best interests of their country. The move by the Malaysian government to ban Israeli athletes from participating in an international sports event set to be held in the city of Kuching this year is a representation of this momentous change.

The elections, many hope, would decrease ethnic tensions and bring more justice to all Malaysians.

Palestinians have been suffering under Israeli colonization and military occupation for more than 70 years. Despite massive Palestinian political and territorial compromises, Israel gave up nothing. For example, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has conceded 78% of historic Palestine in return for peace, which never actualized. To the contrary, the pace of illegal Jewish construction has increased by several folds and military occupation of Palestine is more entrenched than ever before.

This grim reality was the main motive behind the 2005 call by Palestinian civil society to boycott Israel. The BDS movement is the outcome of that collective Palestinian decision.

According to this call, Palestinians demand:

  1. Ending Israeli occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Apartheid Wall.
  2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality.
  3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in United Nations Resolution 194.

The truth is this, Israel has never respected Malaysia, its people and national security. The Israeli Mossad is widely believed to have been behind the assassination of Palestinian scholar Dr. Fadi Al-Batsh on a Malaysian soil last year. Thus, Israel has actively been engaged in harming Malaysia’s national security. This alone should be a compelling rationale for Malaysia – which has no diplomatic relationship with Israel anyway – to ban Israeli athletes.

Sports and politics are directly linked as the boycott of the South African Apartheid regime has shown in the past. Malaysia certainly did the right thing by banning Israeli athletes, especially as the Palestinian people are reduced to live in disconnected Bantustans in the West Bank and under a hermetic siege in Gaza.

Malaysians are important in the global solidarity movement, and their support for BDS can prove crucial considering the country’s large and diverse economy. This country, which has often chosen morality over politics can indeed help the Palestinian people end the oppressed Israeli Apartheid regime.

As a Malaysia Alumnus, and a Palestinian who lost two of my siblings because of Israel’s colonization, I call upon every single Malaysian to support equality for all in Palestine, by contributing to our collective struggle through the BDS movement.

Apartheid can only be defeated when we all realize that “a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

– Yousef M. Aljamal is an editor at the Palestine Chronicle and a University of Malaya Alumnus.

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