Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad — infamous for his antisemitic views across several decades — delivered an anti-Jewish barb that was greeted with laughter during an appearance at the Cambridge University Union in the UK on Sunday night.
The 93-year-old was responding to a respectfully-posed question from the event moderator who asked him, “Why do you say that the Jewish people in general are inclined towards money? There are lots of Jews who care about human rights, care about social justice, care about democracy.”
Mahathir answered: “I have some Jewish friends, very good friends. They are not like the other Jews, that’s why they are my friends.”
This comment was met with an appreciative peal of laughter that rippled across the audience. This was immediately followed by an awkward silence, during which Mahathir grinned at the moderator and then the audience.
At no point was Mahathir challenged or reprimanded by the moderator. There were no audible protests from the audience.
Mahathir also found an opportunity at the event to demonize the LGBTQ+ community with a rant against gay marriage that was approvingly reported in the Malaysian media.
“I don’t understand gay marriage. Marriage is about producing children. Do you get children in a gay marriage? What do they do? They adopt children and things like that,” said Mahathir, who was re-elected as Malaysia’s prime minister in 2018.
Mahathir’s long-held beliefs about Jewish domination of global politics and finance have become one of his defining characteristics as a world leader. Career highlights have included invoking the Nazi stereotype of Jews as “hooknosed” financiers, questioning the extent of the Holocaust during an interview with the BBC, and telling a Muslim solidarity conference with the Palestinians that the September 11, 2001 Al Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, “were staged…as an excuse to mount attacks against the Muslim world.”
In that same speech, in 2010, Mahathir added pointedly: “[Y]ou know, there are forces in the United States which prevent the president from doing some things. One of the forces is the Jewish lobby, AIPAC.”
Several protests were made to the Cambridge Union — Britain’s oldest debating society — in the lead-up to Mahathir’s appearance on Sunday.
Adam Cannon, a former Union president, took to Twitter last week to express his discontent regarding the invitation. “As a former President of the [Cambridge Union]”, he wrote, “I’m appalled that they have invited […] an overt antisemite to speak.”
“Free speech does not mean the Union should be giving him a platform to spout his vile views.”
Peter Sugarman, who was a Cambridge Union president in 1981, told The Jewish Chronicle newspaper: “Just because the Union has the right to invite someone, doesn’t mean that it’s sensible to do so.
“I endorse free speech. However, given Mr. Mohamad’s known antisemitic views, it is sad that the Cambridge Union gave him a platform to express such sentiments. Sadly, it appears that he lived down to expectations.”
Among the student organizations condemning Mahathir’s appearance was the Labour Party’s student branch at Cambridge University. In a tweet, the Cambridge University Labour Club denounced the Malaysian leader as a “vicious antisemite” and declared its “solidarity with British Jews.”