In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Malaysian opposition leader Ibrahim Anwar stated his "support" for "efforts to protect the security of the state of Israel,"
but stopped short of saying he would establish diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
Anwar also said he backed the "legitimate rights of the Palestinians."
According to the American daily, the comments "demonstrated yet again how issues related to Israel continue to divide this majority-Muslim country – and could influence the country’s next national election."
Malaysia is one of three Southeast Asian nations including Indonesia and Brunei that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, though limited economic ties exist between private companies in both countries. The opposition leader called the issue of diplomatic relations "tricky," adding that any change to the status quo would remain contingent on Israel recognizing the aspirations of the Palestinians.
Anwar's comments drew harsh criticism from numerous Malaysian politicians, with members of the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and other groups accusing the leader of abandoning the Palestinian cause, which according to WSJ is long-supported in the majority-Muslim Southeast Asian nation. Others accused him of promoting "Zionist interests."
Anwar responded by saying he backed a "two-state solution" with the Palestinians, a policy he said was no different from the official stance adopted by the United Nations
and Malaysia itself.
"I am issuing a stern warning to anyone trying to twist my statement just so that they can say that I have betrayed the aspirations of the Palestinian people," he said in a statement to the press. His party’s stand "is to defend the rights of whoever it is that has been victimized," the statement said.
Malaysia was quick to criticize Israel after it launched Operation Cast Lead
in Gaza in December 2008 and stormed a Gaza-bound flotilla
in May 2010.
In response to Anwar's statement, Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, a member of the ruling UMNO, said that although Malaysia officially supports a “two-state solution” in settling the Israel-Palestinian conflict, it has also sharply criticized actions taken by the IDF
in the past and does not support “all steps” to protect Israeli security.
In the past Anwar slammed the ruling party's ties with a firm he claimed was "controlled by Zionists."
In 2003 then-Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said the US was attacking Iraq to "promote Israel's interests."
- Receive Ynetnews updates
directly to your desktop