The New Year may have been a great start for many countries especially in terms of political alliances, economical stability and a room for peace and prosperity. However, it seems like Malaysia’s pathway into the new year is still quite rocky and this is definitely not a good sign for the future of the country. It also raises the concern of many international organizations. Just recently, the Malaysian government led by the Prime Minister himself, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had issued a ban on Israeli athletes from competing in the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships which were to be held in Kuching, Sarawak between the 29th of July and the 4th of August.

Well, why was that so? This simple issue which turned out to be a great dilemma began way back when Malaysia first gained independence in the year 1957. The country simply does not accept Israel as a legit country. Therefore, Malaysia does not have any diplomatic relations with Israel and this leads to the prohibition of Malaysians from travelling to Israel and vice versa.

Malaysia, alongside 35 other countries, do not recognize Israel and therefore, do not have any foreign relations with the country. The reasons have a lot to do with a history between two divided countries and in this case, Israel and Palestine. As you may or may not know, the land which Israel claims to be their state is the very exact land that Palestine claims to be theirs. It goes way back to the year 1799 but let’s just state the important facts to note: Malaysia supports Palestine and their plight to claim their land. Keeping this in mind, the Malaysian government had even organized numerous rallies and set up funds for Palestine to show their dissent on the violence of Israelis towards Palestinians.

To the issue at hand, the stand on the ban of Israeli athletes was further enforced by Tun Dr Mahathir. The world’s oldest leader claimed that Malaysia’s foreign policy with Israel is very clear and later, his statement was even supported by the Youth and Sports Minister, Syed Saddiq bin Syed Abdul Rahman. Syed Saddiq stated that if hosting an international event is more important than safeguarding the interest of our Palestinian brothers and sisters who are being mutilated time after time again, if that is more important it means we have lost our moral conscience and moral compass. Whilst the Prime Minister’s decision to ban the athletes from participating gained a whole round of applause from pro-Palestinians in Malaysia and worldwide, including the Organisation of  Islamic Cooperation (OIC), not everyone was happy with the decision.

This further led to Malaysia being stripped off the rights to host the 2019 World Para Swimming Cham­pionships by the International Para­lym­pic Committee (IPC), which served as a a qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

Malaysia’s ban on the Israeli athletes is downright outrageous and illogical. The purpose of sports is to serve as a uniting factor for the global citizens. The Malaysian government’s ban on the athletes from participating is a form of discrimination of the rights of athletes as citizens of this world and as fellow sportsmen and sportswomen.

This goes against the United Nations mission to enable sports as a medium of unity and diversity. The stripping of Malaysia’s rights to host the events is a sign that the rights of individuals are being backed by the authorities, but the ban of the athletes is mainly influenced by Tun Dr Mahathir’s anti-Semitic ways.

He had a long history of being that way, actually. Among the harsh verbal attacks he has ever made was to call the Jews as “hooked nose” and questioned how many people have died in the Holocaust. Apart from that, he even called Israel a “criminal country.” He defended his “one of a kind” decision by likening it to President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.

If you had thought that this is over for good, you might want to retreat your assumption. Earlier this week, former Polish swimmer Bart Kizierowski, decided not to coach the Malaysian swimming team which he earlier accepted before this issue erupted like a volcano across global media headlines. On his Facebook post, Kizierowski stated that his decision was regarding Malaysia’s policy on the ban of Israeli athletes. He even claimed that there is no place in sports for the refusal of visa for the athletes that are supposed to compete at the World Championships organised by the host country. Although he seemed to have a point, people began to harass him via his Facebook page resulting in Kizierowski deactivating his account.

This should not end here. Authorities should continue to press the Malaysian government on its denial of entry of Israeli athletes for the event despite, having its rights stripped off. The Prime Minister of Malaysia should not get away with this easily and his wild accusations and verbal attacks on Jews must be highlighted under the flag of the United Nations as this involves global peace. As per the words of Malala Yousafzai, “there should be no discrimination against languages people speak, skin color, or religion.”

Photo: Bob Martin

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