Malaysia bars Israeli para-athletes, loses major swim competition and major media ignored it

We hear a great deal these days, and appropriately so, about rising anti-Semitism across Europe, much of it masquerading as anti-Israel political rhetoric. For years we’ve known about the virulent anti-Semitic attitudes that permeate the Arab world and neighboring Turkey and Iran.

Nor is there any lack of probing news coverage about the spike in anti-Semitism here in the United States. Look no further than the recent Women's March on Washington for evidence.

Still, I urge you to read this recent analysis by Holocaust and anti-Semitism scholar par excellence Deborah Lipstadt to better understand this ominous state of affairs.

Lipstadt notes how even Israel’s government and some Jews unwittingly make the situation worse.


What we hear very little about, however, is the Jew hatred — and its geopolitical twin, the hatred of all things Israeli — that emanates from Malaysia.

This past Sunday — which coincided with international Holocaust Remembrance Day — the International Paralympic Committee cancelled a top-level swimming competition set for Malaysia later this year because of that nation’s refusal to allow Israeli athletes to compete in, or even enter, the Southeast Asian country.

Did you see anything about this in the mainstream media?

Speaking at the Oxford Union [in England] a week ago, prime minister Dr Mahatir Mohamed confirmed that the visa-denial was punitive but restated his country’s right to bar visitors from countries whose policies he disagreed with, adding that if the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) wanted to withdraw Malaysia’s right to host the tournament, “they can do so”. He has also previously described Jews as “hook-nosed” and suggested four million, rather than six million Jews, were killed in the Shoah [Holocaust].

The above paragraph is from London’s Jewish News, as carried by the Times of Israel news website.

As you might imagine, the Malaysia story has been followed closely by Israeli and Jewish diaspora media, along with Asian and Muslim-world news outlets.

This piece from ChannelNewsAsia, a regional TV and online operation, notes how the Malaysian prime minister sought to justify his anti-Israel policies by equating them with President Donald Trump’s rhetoric about keeping Mexican and other Hispanics from entering the U.S.

(I’m no Trump fan, but In fairness I should note that Trump talks, in the main, about undocumented aliens; Mohamed makes no such distinction.)

Despite the coverage internationally (including by European wire services), however, this Malaysian story has been all but ignored, until now, by American mainstream media, as far as I could tell via several web searches. All I've found are a few perfunctory wire dispatches online.

(Don't be surprised if a smattering of stories start appearing in major print and via cable TV now that the IPC has taken official retaliatory action — although as of my writing this post yesterday morning (Jan. 28) I found none. Readers: If you spot one, please let me know in the comments section below.)

Why has the Malaysia situation been so ignored?

First and foremost, I’d say, is because of the avalanche of Trump-related, government shutdown stories that dominated — overwhelmed may be the better word — American news media the past few weeks, coinciding with the time it took for the Malaysia story to come to a head.

There’s just no getting around the degree to which Washington political stories have come to dominate American news feeds under Trump.

That, combined with ever-shrinking print news holes and newsroom staff reductions, has left little time, space or energy to devote to all the other news — from important local government decisions to international developments — that Americans should also know about.

Another reason for this oversight, I’d say, is that Malaysian leaders — in particular, Prime Minister Mohamed — are no strangers to anti-Semitic actions and outbursts. That means that for at least some domestic journalistic gatekeepers, this story is just another dog-bites-man yarn.

Read this piece from Singapore’s Straits Times, published after the IPC decision, for more background on Muslim-majority Malaysia’s history of bashing Israel by relating it to the Palestinian cause.

Malaysia is one of several Muslim states that have no formal diplomatic ties with Israel. It is forbidden to enter the country on an Israeli passport.

The country announced this month that it would bar Israelis from any event held in the South-east Asia nation to stand in solidarity with Palestine … Malaysia said in response to the IPC's decision that it "prioritises human rights".

Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman said if hosting an international sporting event is more important than standing up for Palestinians, that means Malaysia has truly lost its moral compass …

"Malaysia stands firmly with our decision on the ground of humanity and compassion for the Palestinian plight. We will not compromise."

The Palestinian cause has widespread support in Malaysia and thousands took to the streets in protest when US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Malaysia has prevented Israeli athletes from competing in a sports event before. Two Israeli windsurfers had to pull out of a competition on the island of Langkawi after they were refused visas in 2015.

Kuala Lumpur also refused to host a conference for world football’s [soccer] governing body FIFA in 2017 as an Israeli delegation was due to attend.

Let me be clear. If Malaysia wants to pursue anti-Israel and, to my mind, anti-Semitic policies, I think it has a right to do so. I strongly disagree, but I’m well aware of the uncompromising and often distorted attitudes that exist in most Muslim majority nations, stirred by their religious identification with Palestinians.

Also, if Iran and other Muslim nations order their athletes to forfeit contests rather than compete with Israelis in Olympic and other international competitions held in third-party nations, so be it. I see that as only hurting their own athletes, and certainly as no way to foster a peaceable conclusion to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But to repeat: I recognize that there exist opinions about the conflict that totally disagree with mine.

Why, however, do some international sport associations keep awarding competitions to nations that routinely bar Israelis, just because they're Israeli Jews? This, even though the sport overseers insist they are politically neutral. I know of no other nation or people treated this way.

So it's blatant prejudice, in my opinion.

But that’s not the bottom line in this post. Rather, it's how our nation’s diminished news media is missing more and more stories — again, ranging from local zoning and development stories to ones with international consequences.

This does not bode well for news consumers who must rely on journalists for fair, complete, fact-based, ACTUAL REPORTING to make informed public decisions — and, quite simply, to sustain the public discourse that is at the heart of democracy.

FIRST IMAGE: From the Photo Israel Paralympics Committee

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