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September 24, 2019 8:42 am

For Malaysia’s Antisemitic Prime Minster, Speaking at Columbia University Is a Privilege — Not a Right

avatar by Romy Ronen and Michale Schueler / JNS.org

Opinion

Low Memorial Library at Columbia University. Photo: Alex Proimos.

JNS.orgDr. Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister of Malaysia, is expected to address Columbia University’s World Leadership Forum on September 25.

Dr. Mohamad has a long history of blatant antisemitism and fear-mongering. According to a 2012 post on his blog, he is “proud to be labeled antisemitic.” In his autobiography, A Doctor in the House, he claims that “Jews are not merely hook-nosed, but understand money instinctively.” Dr. Mohamad has also used known tropes of Holocaust denial to make political points, stating in one BBC interview that “you cannot even mention that in the Holocaust it was not six million [Jews killed].”

In 1997, he gave a speech claiming that the failure of the Malaysian ringgit was due to a “Jewish agenda” led by Holocaust survivor and philanthropist George Soros, and peddling antisemitic tropes of “Jewish money” and a worldwide Jewish conspiracy.

It is true that the First Amendment guarantees that any individual, including Dr. Mohamad, has the right to speak his mind without government censure. However, it does not mean that a person can say anything without social and/or academic consequences. Speaking at Columbia University is a privilege, not a right.

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Why should antisemitism be outwardly expressed in a forum as prestigious as Columbia? Why should the 10,000 Jews on campus have to feel targeted, unsafe, and uncomfortable? Why should hate speech and bigotry be given a free pass? Why should the already increasingly antisemitic environments on campuses worldwide be further exacerbated by a man who has unequivocally presented himself as a hater of the Jewish people? Former president of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a proud antisemite, was already hosted by Columbia’s World Leadership Forum. Why should this occur again?

We call on Columbia and the World Leadership Forum to cancel this event. If this is not possible, we call on the president of Columbia University, Dr. Lee Bollinger, to at least denounce Dr. Mohamad’s previous antisemitic remarks on stage. Columbia University students have the right to live and learn in a place where hatred will never be invited in or celebrated. As E. E. Cummings stated in his own writings regarding antisemitism, ”hatred bounces.”

Romy Ronen and Michale Schueler are sophomores at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Romy Ronen is a member of the Israeli-American Council-Act.IL New York Media Room and a board member of Students Supporting Israel at Columbia University.

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