Jewish groups have blasted the UK visit of antisemitic Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad this week, after his government denied entry to Israeli Paralympic swimmers for an important qualifying tournament.
During his four-day visit to the UK, which is his second working visit to Britain since taking office last May, Mohamad, 93, is due to speak in Oxford University’s famous debating chamber on Friday 18 January.
This led to Jewish students at the prestigious institution to express “concern” over the invitation, arguing that Mohamad is “known for publicly expressing antisemitic views” and recently doubled-down on his observation that Jews are “hook-nosed”.
In a statement posted online by Nicole Jacobus, the president of Oxford Jewish Society, she said Mohamad was “an open and unrepentant antisemite” and that the president of the Oxford Union had agreed to meet to discuss her concerns.
Grassroots groups such as Sussex Friends of Israel this week began drumming up support for a protest outside Oxford Union during Mohamad’s visit, while Jewish representatives waded in.
“Clearly many Jews, and Jewish students in particular, will be deeply concerned that such an unrepentant antisemite is apparently very welcome at the Oxford Union,” said CST communications director Mark Gardner.
“We thank Oxford Jewish Society (J-Soc) for raising the issue with the President of the Oxford Union and wish them every success in reaching some kind of constructive outcome.”
A spokesman for the Union of Jewish Students said: “We send our full support and solidarity to Oxford J-Soc, in light of the Oxford Union’s invitation to speakers who use antisemitic rhetoric and tropes”.
He added: “The spread and normalisation of antisemitic thought must never be welcome on campus. We look forward to seeing the Oxford Union engaging in constructive conversations with Jewish students, and taking decisive action to address concerns.”
Earlier this week Board of Deputies’ president Marie van der Zyl condemned Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah for banning disabled Israeli athletes.
“If Malaysia’s government persists with this threat, the country should be banned from holding any international sporting tournaments,” she said. “This kind of blatant prejudice must not be condoned by the international community.”
Bilateral relations between Britain and Malaysia are strong – British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt visited Malaysia just two weeks ago – but there is growing anger in the Jewish community, with a petition to the Malaysian High Commission calling on the country to allow the Israeli swimmers entry gaining 2,000 signatures.
Andrew Dismore, London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden, said: “Jewish Students on campus feel less and less safe. By hosting a noted anti-Semite, Oxford Union are propagating a hostile environment for Jews, giving a platform to a man who has denied the severity of the Holocaust, propagated antisemitic tropes, and made straightforward racist comments.”