21 October 2003
In a letter to Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Anan, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev called on the Secretary General to denounce the antisemitic statements and public call for a struggle against the Jewish people made by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed of Malaysia. Mahathir Mohamed made the controversial statements at the Islamic Conference on October 16. Shalev also called on the Secretary General to demand that Mahathir Mohamed retract his inciteful statements; that the leaders of the 57 countries represented at the Conference disown these statements; and that they speak out in favor of mutual tolerance and against stereotyped and false images of Jews or any other people.
In addition, Shalev asked Anan to encourage the countries that participated in the Islamic Conference (as well as other countries) to educate their people against hatred and perfidious stereotypes. He stated that “Yad Vashem stands ready to assist in initiating and implementing such an educational endeavor”.
In his letter, Shalev wrote “the much-quoted speech by Mahathir Mohamed included shocking and inciteful comments about Jews that should have disappeared from public discourse long ago. His allusions to an international Jewish conspiracy and to mysterious, almost satanic Jewish power and control are chillingly reminiscent of other, evil times. Contrary to his and his foreign minister’s disclaimers, Mahathir Mohamed did not limit himself to speaking against Israeli policies. He spoke clearly and forthrightly against Jews, using the classic slogans and imagery of modern antisemitism, and his minister claimed in his explanations that Israel does not have a legitimate right to exist. Calling on the Islamic world to defend itself against the tiny people that controls the world is not a call for peace, as Mahathir Mohamed would have us believe. It is true that Mahathir Mohamed’s speech also included comments regarding peace with Israel, but we can only wonder why such ostensibly peaceful comments must be couched in antisemitic slurs.”
Shalev’s letter continued, “Many Western countries have denounced Mohamed Mahathir’s antisemitic statements, because their leaders remember and understand the close connection between words and action.”
Shalev added “antisemitic stereotypes have again become commonplace in much of the world. This time, they are frequently intermixed with anti-Americanism, anti-Westernism, and anti-globalization. In the twentieth century, humanity learned that the leap from words to genocidal actions can be very short. Following Mahathir Mohamed’s speech, the leaders of 57 countries applauded enthusiastically, and many of them specifically praised the antisemitic segments of his speech. Not a single one of them spoke out against them. This is symptomatic of a very deeply entrenched and menacing problem. The answer is education, which is mankind’s main tool to keep criticism within the bounds of legitimate discourse and to prevent words of incitement from turning into acts of genocide.”