- Advertisement -

'Can we condemn Netanyahu?' Sceptics abound as Anwar calls for pro-Palestine gathering

This comes after the organisers of a similar rally in Kuala Lumpur came under fire for setting restrictions on what protesters could say or display.

4 minute read
Some of the posters banned by the organisers of a pro-Palestine rally in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday. Many have questioned whether a government rally tonight will likewise bar such images.
Some of the posters banned by the organisers of a pro-Palestine rally in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday. Many have questioned whether a government rally tonight will likewise bar such images.

Anwar Ibrahim has urged Malaysians to attend a rally in support of Palestine, although several posts promoting the event have been flooded with comments laced with sarcasm and suspicion in the aftermath of Sunday's gathering which saw organisers under fire for banning placards mocking Israeli and US leaders.

The "Malaysia Stands with Gaza" gathering tonight is being held behind closed doors at the indoor Axiata Arena stadium in Bukit Jalil.

This is a departure from previous pro-Palestine protests, which have largely been held at the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur, including one last Friday attended by former leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad and former Umno man Khairy Jamaluddin, as well as several opposition figures.

Tonight's event will feature local artists such as Siti Nurhaliza and Faizal Tahir, as well speeches by some 20 individuals and politicians from the ruling bloc.

Organisers and NGOs promoting the event on social media appeared eager to emphasise that the gathering would not restrict expressions of anger against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or US President Joe Biden – seen as a move to distance themselves from Viva Palestina Malaysia (VPM), which stopped protesters from carrying placards mocking the two leaders.

VPM chairman Dr Musa Nordin also came under attack from the Muslim public for apparently telling protesters not to shout "Allahu Akbar" (God is great).

The medical doctor, known for his vocal support of Pakatan Harapan (PH), had defended the curbs placed on protesters, many of whom uploaded videos expressing shock and disappointment after he berated some who carried placards depicting a blood-stained Netanyahu in the form of a devil.

Against this backdrop, a flood of questions were posed to the organisers of tonight's protest, including whether people would be allowed to condemn Netanyahu.

One NGO promoting the event, Cinta Gaza Malaysia (CGM), responded to queries by directing the questions to the organiser.

"Madam, you may ask the event organiser about this, we at CGM are merely helping to promote it," it said.

To another, CGM said while Palestinian flags would be allowed, political party flags were not.

Many subsequently asked whether the move was to stop participants from expressing support for Hamas, the Palestinian group that Israel has declared its intent to wipe out in its ongoing bombardments of Gaza.

"Does that mean mafla bearing 'Hamas' is not allowed too? During the rally in 2014, many wore Hamas mafla. Previous organisers were okay with it," said one user on Instagram.

"Too many and all sort of rules in a Muslim land," wrote another.

Malaysia has diplomatic ties with Hamas, despite the group being labelled by Western governments as a terrorist organisation.

In 2013, former leader Najib Razak became the first top official to visit Gaza, where he was received by senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

Haniyeh also met with Mahathir in 2020, with the latter openly expressing support for Hamas, the popular political and military movement that controls the Gaza Strip.

Anwar, for his part, recently said his government would continue the policy of having ties with Hamas. 

His statement was significant as the PKR leader had come under attack for his past views, with some accusing him of sympathising with Israel.

In 2012, Anwar, then the opposition leader, told the Wall Street Journal that he "would support all efforts to protect the security of the state of Israel" – remarks that were used against him by his critics during the general election last year, which saw his coalition largely rejected by Malay voters.

Hours after he was sworn in as prime minister, an influential Israeli daily welcomed the appointment, saying it could signal a new chapter between Putrajaya and Tel Aviv.

"Unlike his predecessor [sic] Mahathir, Malaysia's new PM Anwar Ibrahim doesn't call himself a 'proud antisemite'; indeed, his foes slur him as an 'agent' of Jews and/or Christians," said Esther Solomon, chief editor of the English-language Haaretz.

'Damage control'

While Malay Muslims have been divided politically, they have by and large been united in their sympathy for the Palestinian cause.

But this unity appears under threat after the recent move to stop Islamic religious chants and angry posters directed at Israeli and Western leaders.

Some who took to social media also speculated that the latest rally was an attempt at damage control by Putrajaya, as many ruling party leaders such as Anwar's daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar and PKR information chief Fahmi Fadzil were among those who attended the Sunday rally.

"50/50 about attending. Afraid that 'pisang berbuah dua kali' (history will repeat itself'," said one.

"Can we shout 'Allahu Akbar'? Can we lift placards condemning Benjamin Netanyahu? Tell us early so it's easy to plan," posted Ahmad Saifuddin Daud in response to an invitation to the event on Anwar's Facebook.

Many supporters meanwhile said Sunday's rally was not organised by the government, despite Musa, the main person behind VPM, being a vocal supporter of Pakatan Harapan.

"Let us all show our support. Whether you are PN or PHBN or non-partisan, let's set aside political minds for a moment," wrote Bukhari Burn.