SELWYN DORFMAN

PM has a nose for trouble

MANY years ago, before she had the pleasure and privilege of meeting me, Mrs Dorfman visited Malaysia.

I’ve never been there and, frankly, Malaysia is nowhere near the top of my bucket list.

I’m sure it’s very beautiful, there’s lots to see and the people there are as nice and as rude as other nationalities (with the exception of the French who are still in pole position as the rudest people on Earth, with Israelis coming up on the far side).

Do I really want to visit a country with virtually no Jews (100, according to Wikipedia), no shuls and a long history of state-sponsored antisemitism?

So next summer, is it Tel Aviv or Kuala Lumpur?

And do I want to risk bumping in to Malaysia’s smiley, nonagenarian, newly re-elected Prime Minister Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad?

Here’s all you need to know: Dr Mohamad was previously Prime Minister from 1981 until 2003, but he’s back now, having won the election in May.

At 93, he is the world’s oldest head of government and he’s certainly not gaga. Far from it; if I live to that age and am as cogent and coherent as Dr Mohamad, I’ll feel pretty pleased with myself.

And I definitely hope I’ll be as funny as Mahathir when I’m in my nineties. Because he is funny.

At the start of this month he was interviewed by Zeinab Badawi for BBC’s HARDtalk. It was all going swimmingly until the last five minutes when Badawi had the effrontery to bring up the Malaysian leader’s past antisemitic comments in speeches and in his book.

Reminded that he had in the past described Jews as “not merely hook-nosed, but understand money instinctively”.

Dr Mohamad was unapologetic.

“They are hook-nosed!” he insisted.

For good measure, he blamed Israel for starting all the problems in the Middle East and claimed that four million and not six million Jews had died in the Holocaust.

Forgive me, but when a bigot doesn’t try to hide his stupid and irrational prejudices, but is happy to deputise for Alf Garnett on an international news programme, you have to laugh.

Even Badawi gave a sharp intake of breath and, I suspect, was trying hard not to laugh out loud, which would probably have been taken as a sign of disrespect by the elderly leader.

And all the time Mahathir remained calm and smiled as if he were deliberately trying to wind us all up.

When a politician is told on TV that he has been described in the Israeli press as a “proud antisemite” and he just smiles, accepts the ‘compliment’ and, most of all, doesn’t claim that “I have fought antisemitism all my life” — frankly I find it quite refreshing.

I watched the BBC interview on YouTube and you can too — just remember to wind forward to the last five minutes unless you are particularly interested in Malaysian politics.

And afterwards you can enjoy all the viewers’ short comments below, most of them from native Malays.

I must have read about a hundred. A few writers branded Mahathir as incompetent and corrupt. But the great majority praised him as a wonderful leader who “told it like it is”.

There were plenty of contributors outraged by Badawi’s questions and interviewing style, one of them calling the 58-year-old veteran presenter “an intern”.

But I looked in vain to find a single person expressing the slightest concern that their leader had disgraced himself by denigrating, on international TV, another people, using classic antisemitic tropes.

No one corrected Mahathir’s version of the Holocaust or even suggested that there might be other problems in the Middle East that have nothing to do with Israel.

I confess I know next-to-nothing about Malaysia. It’s supposed to be a democracy and, for all his flaws, I don’t believe Mahathir is a dictator.

So I presume Malays can criticise and even ridicule their leaders without fear of arrest and prosecution.

So how come no one in Malaysia seems openly embarrassed by the Prime Minister’s comments?

Are they so ignorant that they really believe that Jews are hook-nosed? That they all have honkers like that of the notoriously antisemitic King Faisal of Saudi Arabia in the 1970s?

I am sure there are plenty of smart Malaysians who know that their leader is talking racist nonsense — so why doesn’t someone say something?

Or must we assume that their hatred of Jews is so blindingly intense that any lie, no matter how grotesque is acceptable?

I don’t know the answer though I have a strong suspicion, call it a prejudice if you must, that if Benjamin Netanyahu or any other world leader were to say in public something unkind about the Malaysian people, Dr Mohamad would stop smiling for a moment and denounce them as racist and “Islamophobic” to a chorus of worldwide approval.

I know something else. Having spent several hours this week studying myself in the mirror I can declare with confidence that I do not have a hooked nose. And neither do any of my children.

And certainly not the lovely, tiny-nosed Mrs Dorfman.

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