MALAYSIA calls itself a long-time ally of Palestine. When US President Donald Trump pronounced the heavily-contested city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last month, thousands protested at the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. Prime Minister Najib Razak immediately called on Muslims worldwide to strongly oppose any recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Despite this, local academics believe Malaysians are still “ignorant” about what the recent furore over Jerusalem and the Israel-Palestine conflict are all about, in yet another instance that reveals the depth of its citizens’ knowledge about the conflict.
Public opinion after Trump’s announcement “show just how ignorant Malaysians are when it comes to the Palestinian position,” Associate Professor Hafidzi Mohd Nor of Universiti Putra Malaysia said in a forum titled “Understanding the Jerusalem Contention” in Kuala Lumpur yesterday,
Hafidzi, a humanitarian who has written several books and articles on this issue, makes this claim based on comments he had observed on platforms such as Facebook and Whatsapp, though he adds he does not intend this as a sweeping statement about Malaysians. However, he said some had asked him questions such as “Why don’t Palestinians just give up?” or “Why don’t we just let the Israelis have Jerusalem so we can have peace all over the world?”.
He warns that the unaware masses will “stand in the way” and “slow down” the process of liberating Palestinians.
Jason Leong, representing the Association of NexGen Christians of Malaysia said the local Christian community is similarly dismissive of the issue, with many viewing it as an issue for the Muslim community to deal with.
“There is no discussion in the churches or among Christian leaders,” Leong said.
When Leong’s group spoke up about the issue during the recent rally in Putrajaya, they amassed support not from local churches, but from those overseas, such as Taiwan and Bethlehem.
Professor Azmi Hassan of Mara University of Technology (UiTM) referred to the assassination of North Korean leader’s half-brother Kim Jong Nam at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 last February as another example which showcased some Malaysians’ ‘ignorance’.
“On that day, Malaysians realised that there are loads of North Koreans in Malaysia and they have an embassy here. And that we have diplomatic relations with North Korea … that kind of ignorance,” Azmi said.
“The same thing with Jerusalem. It’s been happening for a long time but it was only on Dec 6 that they realised something is not right in Jerusalem.”
Trump’s endorsement of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and order to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv caused an uproar among the international community early last month for upending decades of traditional American neutrality.
…peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more. But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2018
Both Israel and Palestine lay claim to Jerusalem as their political capital and sacred religious site, although Israel is in control of the entire city now after capturing the eastern half during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
The status of Jerusalem is key to the peace process between the two states – Trump’s move is seen as a death blow to the prospect of the popular 2-state solution which envisions dividing the city into an Israeli West and a Palestinian East.
More education needed
An ignorant mass seems at odds with the reports of mass protests and boycotts Malaysians typically hold in the aftermath of transgressions on Palestine. But while there are public condemnation and burning of Trump effigies notwithstanding, their motives and effectiveness have sometimes been called into question.
— yun (@yunsuhada) January 9, 2018
Apart from rallies, social media users also called for a boycott of various US companies in Malaysia for its supposed links to Israel. The local McDonald’s franchise was accused of “channelling funds to Israel” even though both Malaysia and Singapore franchise rights were bought by Saudi Arabia’s Lionhorn Pte Ltd a year ago.
Similar boycott calls were made in 2014 when the restaurant chain was alleged to have funded the Israeli attacks on Gaza, even though McDonald’s Malaysia then was a local franchisee and of a different company.
“We have to work a lot harder to convince our fellow Malaysians, including the Malay-Muslims who have become disillusioned but without any knowledge whatsoever of what has been happening these 70 years or so,” Hafidzi said.
“This is an opportunity for us to educate and also expose our younger generation on what has happened in history.”