The 93-year-old has been accused of anti-Semitism for saying Jews were perpetrating a humanitarian crisis in the troubled region.
“If you are going to be truthful, the problem in the Middle East began with the creation of Israel. That is the truth. But I cannot say that,” he told the BBC, in remarks that suggested his historical knowledge was limited.
Calling Israelis “special”, Mahathir then said only 4 million Jews died in the Nazi Holocaust, rather than the accepted figure was 4 million.
Mahathir was visiting the UK at the time.
In his 1970 book, the Malay Dilemma, wrote “the Jews are not merely hook-nosed, but understand money instinctively”.
When quizzed about whether this was offensive, the returning prime minister said: “Many people called the Malays fat-nosed. We didn’t object, we didn’t go to war for that.”
The US-based Anti-Defamation League tweeted in May that Mahathir had a “decades-long record of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories … The world cannot accept this from any leader”.
Last week, he told the UN General Assembly in New York that the international community “rewards Israel” for breaking the law and committing acts of terror against the Palestinians.
Mahathir was invited to speak at Oxford University’s Centre for Islamic Studies and the think tank Chatham House and he visited Imperial College London.
British Jewish groups protested during his visit.
“It is utterly appalling that at a time when anti-Semitism is so raw, a man who is proud to be an anti-Semite is being courted,” Gideon Falter, chairman of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, told the Jewish News. “It is equally unforgivable that he was invited to tour our most prominent educational institutions and share his opinions with students.”
Mahathir told Associated Press in August: “Anti-Semitic is a term that is invented to prevent people from criticising the Jews for doing wrong things.”
In 2003 during his first term as prime minister, he told leaders of Muslim-majority nations at the Organisation of the Islamic Conference in Kuala Lumpur to “counterattack” against the “few million Jews” in reference to the Holocaust.
In his speech, Mahathir said: “1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews. There must be a way. And we can only find a way if we stop to think, to assess our weaknesses and our strength, to plan, to strategise and then to counterattack. We are actually very strong. 1.3 billion people cannot be simply wiped out.
“I am glad to be labelled anti-Semitic … How can I be otherwise, when the Jews who so often talk of the horrors they suffered during the Holocaust show the same zNazi cruelty and hard-heartedness towards not just their enemies but even towards their allies should any try to stop the senseless killing of their Palestinian enemies?”
The outspoken twins. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Mahathir Mohamad, who has a long history of making anti-Semitic remarks. Picture credit: Wikimedia