At a press conference in Vienna, Austria, Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Tun Mahathir Mohamad defended his decision to disallow Israeli athletes from competing in the World Para Swimming championship in Sarawak, which is scheduled from July 29 to August 4 of this year.
Calling Israel a “criminal country,” Dr. Mahathir said that it’s within Malaysia’s rights to do this.
The Times of Israel reports Dr. Mahathir as saying each nation “has a right to accept or refuse entry to people from other nations.”
Furthermore, “We have that right and we must exercise that right,” Mahathir said.
He then went on to compare the ban to United States’ President Donald Trump’s controversial plan to build a wall to keep immigrants out.
Mahathir said, “The Americans are building a high wall to keep the Mexicans from going to the US. For us, we have just as much right as the US in keeping out undesirables or terrorists. People who are undesirable for our country must be kept out and this includes people suspected of being terrorists and the like.”
In response to a question about the exclusion of Israeli swimmers from the World Para Swimming championship, he said, “These athletes come from a country that does what it likes, including building settlements in other people’s country. They have raided our ship, which was carrying aid for the people of Gaza. There are many other things done by Israel that is against international law and against morality.”
He stood firm on the decision to ban athletes from Israel. “We don’t want anything to do with them, including their people. If they want to compete in sports, they can go to other countries. But for Malaysia, they are coming from a criminal country and we cannot accept them.”
Israel was none too happy to hear the news of the ban, since this year’s championships will determine who qualifies for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, calling the decision one stemming from Mahathir’s “rabid anti-Semitism.”
The country has asked the International Paralympic Committee to either change the venue for the championship or to question Malaysia’s decision.
Mahathir’s government has refused to compromise on the issue, which has a precedent in 2015 when two windsurfers from Israel withdrew from a competition in Langkawi when their visas were denied.
Malaysia and Israel have no formal diplomatic ties.
93-year-old Mahathir has been called out for his remarks about Jews in the past when he has called them “hook-nosed” and asked how many were really killed in the Holocaust.
The Malaysian Prime Minister has said, “It is my right to tell them they have been doing a lot of wrong things. Why can’t we say anything against Israel, against the Jews?” although he has refuted claims that he is anti-Semitic.