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Diplomats unconvinced as Anwar urged to come clean on 'threats' over Israel stand

The unprecedented claim has come under scrutiny as the government refuses to specify the source of the threats.

5 minute read
Anwar Ibrahim is the first Malaysian leader to claim that he was threatened for speaking up on Palestine, unlike past prime ministers who have been openly in support of Palestine, including by hosting Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas which is designated as a terrorist group by the US and its allies.
Anwar Ibrahim is the first Malaysian leader to claim that he was threatened for speaking up on Palestine, unlike past prime ministers who have been openly in support of Palestine, including by hosting Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas which is designated as a terrorist group by the US and its allies.

Anwar Ibrahim's claim of threats by foreign powers has ruffled the diplomatic community, as pressure builds on the prime minister to reveal details or risk being accused of "crying wolf".

Anwar made the statement on Oct 24 during a speech, a large part of which was dedicated to his travels to the Middle East to meet leaders in a move he described as "unprecedented in the history of our country".

But many former and current diplomats who spoke to MalaysiaNow said they had never heard of any threats against past prime ministers or previous government leaders for taking a strong stand on the Palestinian conflict.

"Since the time of our first prime minister, it has been government policy not to recognise the state of Israel and, at the same time, to support Palestinians morally and materially. Nowhere in the last 60 years or so have I heard any leader talking about being threatened by Israel's allies," said a former diplomatic atache who has served at various Malaysian missions in the Gulf.

Speaking at a pro-Palestine rally organised by his government on Tuesday night, Anwar said he had come attack from some sections in "Europe, the US and certainly Israel".

"Let me state, as long as I am given the mandate by the people, I will not accept the threats. Don't ever think of threatening us. Malaysia is a fiercely independent country. We decide what is right," he told the crowd at the Axiata Arena indoor stadium.

"I have been reprimanded, threatened. I say, you picked the wrong man."

Anwar, when questioned by reporters, said the threats came from "European MPs", although no further details have been forthcoming. 

The remarks however sparked chatter on closed social media groups comprising former and current Malaysian diplomats, many of whom reacted cynically.

"I thought it was some diplomat here who issued the threat. But what standing does a European MP have to threaten any of our leaders? That's no threat," said one diplomat in a private WhatsApp group involving 23 senior diplomats, current and former ambassadors.

A ministry officer attached to a Malaysian embassy in the Middle East meanwhile said that being criticised was not the same as being threatened, adding that past Malaysian leaders would never have bothered to talk about such things in public.

"Have you ever heard Mahathir or Najib talking about it? It would be beneath a prime minister's dignity to actually say he was threatened, and by whom, by a mere MP, not some foreign leader or even an ambassador who represents his government," he wrote in a WhatsApp conversation shown discreetly to MalaysiaNow.

One diplomat also recalled that Najib Razak had no problems being close to Hamas despite the former prime minister's warm ties with Washington and other Western governments.

"And we all know about the old man and his uncensored attacks on US and Israel and Jewish proxies. He never said he was threatened despite some Western leaders and media openly condemning him," he added.

'Name them'

Since Anwar made the claim, several opposition leaders have urged him to provide more details, while former foreign minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who is part of the ruling bloc, appeared unconvinced by the prime minister's earlier statement that Malaysians would continue to speak out against Israel despite the risk of action from Western powers.

"I don't know what was meant by risks. I see many other Islamic countries have also taken a strong stance. And if indeed that is the SOP of Western countries, other countries would have faced such risks," he told the Dewan Rakyat yesterday to applause from opposition MPs.

PAS information chief Ahmad Fadhli Shaari urged the foreign minister to take seriously Anwar's claim. 

"We cannot bear to see our PM being pressured and threatened like this. If they dare to pressure, Malaysia should send a protest note to their country's embassy here," he told the Dewan Rakyat.

Meanwhile, PAS Youth, which has a history of organising some of the largest and fiercest anti-Israel rallies in front of the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur, assured Anwar that it would defend him.

"Immediately name the countries that issued the threat! Do not fear, prime minister, we are there to defend you," it said.

PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan described Anwar's claim as "alarmist and funny".

He said past prime ministers were also known for being vocal on the conflict with no threats issued despite Malaysia's move to establish ties with Hamas, the Palestinian group declared as a terrorist organisation by major Western powers.

"If the 'threat' in question really exists, as the head of the government, he should take the proper steps to summon the ambassador or representative of the country involved to convey Malaysia's objection, and not make a public statement without any explanation," he said, dismissing Anwar's claim as an attempt to prop up his image in the wake of waning public support.

Last year, Anwar and his Pakatan Harapan coalition were forced to fight back allegations of sympathising with Israel, after news emerged that a PKR supporter was part of a Mossad-linked group which kidnapped a Palestinian man in September last year.

During the general election campaign last year, the opposition also challenged Anwar to revoke his stand on the Palestinian conflict, citing an interview published by the Wall Street Journal in 2012.

Anwar was quoted by the paper as saying that he "would support all efforts to protect the security of the state of Israel" – remarks that were used against him by his critics to further erode the already thin Malay support for his coalition.

Complimentary soundbites from Israel also further posed problems for Anwar.

Hours after he was was sworn in as prime minister, an influential Israeli daily welcomed the appointment, saying it could see closer ties with Malaysia.

"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.

Meanwhile, amid the calls for a follow-up on the alleged threats mentioned by Anwar, Foreign Minister Zambry Abdul Kadir said it was better not to name the culprits.

"But as the PM has reiterated many times, we are not afraid of their threats," he said.

On social media, the statement sparked further suspicions about whether Anwar had been threatened at all.

"We are not afraid but when asked to name which country, we don't even have the courage to do so," said a comment on YouTube, one of thousands of reactions in an online debate about the alleged threats.