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Groups, activists to gather as pressure grows for Anwar to axe deal with 'genocide-tainted' BlackRock

The 'Tolak BlackRock' forum brings together former ministers, politicians, NGO leaders and influencers from different backgrounds to protest the US giant's investment.

4 minute read

Civil society activists, social media influencers, politicians and NGOs will be coming together to protest the government's move to bring a company owned by US investment giant BlackRock into a consortium to manage airports in Malaysia, in what has been seen as mounting pressure on the firm facing accusations of involvement in Israeli war crimes.

The "Tolak BlackRock" forum tomorrow will see speakers such as former health minister-turned-podcast personality Khairy Jamaluddin, former Kedah menteri besar Mukhriz Mahathir, and former foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah.

The forum, to be held at the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, will also feature NGO leaders such as Nazari Ismail, who leads the local chapter of global anti-Israel movement Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), and Azmi Abdul Hamid, who heads the Malaysian Consultative Council of Islamic Organisation.

Hishamuddin Rais, a veteran activist among those behind the forum, urged the public to "come and hear what BlackRock is about".

"How is BlackRock related to Malaysian airports, Israel and the Palestine (conflict)?" he said in a short clip.

Tian Chua from the Palestine Solidarity Secretariat which is organising the forum said the event was not aligned with any political group.

The former PKR vice-president said it was intended to spread public awareness on the risk of BlackRock's involvement in the management of the country's assets.

"For example, MAHB will be privatised and will have 45 years of monopoly in the management of airports nationwide, up to 2069," he said, referring to government-owned Malaysia Airports Holdings where a company owned by BlackRock is set to take a 30% stake.

"In the end, we're stuck for 45 years without a way out."

Tian Chua also said Malaysia had had bitter experiences from monopolies.

"Like Bernas, now the government complains about this monopoly that was already signed by the previous government.

"So, we are stuck with a decision that is not in favour of the government," he said, referring to Padiberas Nasional, the company with the sole licence to import rice.

The BlackRock issue has emerged as one of Anwar's greatest challenges since his appointment to the top post, and comes against a backdrop of claims that he is more friendly with the US and Israel, with critics citing past statements including his interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2012 which quoted him as saying that he would "support all efforts to protect the security of the state of Israel".

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A protest against BlackRock's involvement in arming Israel's military held at the lobby of the company's headquarters in New York in November 2023.
A protest against BlackRock's involvement in arming Israel's military held at the lobby of the company's headquarters in New York in November 2023.
Anwar has taken pains to change that perception with speeches and statements criticising Washington's support for Israel, in addition to his attendance at meetings with global Muslim leaders in the wake of Israel's bombing campaign in Gaza last year which has so far killed at least 35,000 Palestinians.

Under the plan announced last month, BlackRock-owned Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) will hold a 30% stake in a consortium to manage MAHB, alongside government investment fund Khazanah Nasional and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), both entities under the jurisdiction of the finance ministry led by Anwar.

BlackRock's well-documented role in strengthening Israel's economy as well as its heavy investments in the US' weapons industry has made it a target of pro-Palestinian protesters who accuse the company of profiting from genocide.

Among the companies in which BlackRock invests are McDonald's and Starbucks, where it is the second largest shareholder, and which have been at the receiving end of a global boycott of Western interests accused of colluding with the Zionist regime.

BlackRock also invests in Lockheed Martin, holding a 7.4% stake in the defence firm.

Lockheed Martin, which has multi-billion-dollar investments in Israel's defence and aerospace industry, came under the spotlight in Malaysia after pro-Palestinian groups protested its inclusion in the Defense Services Asia and National Security Asia exhibition in Kuala Lumpur early last month.

Previously, more than 20 organisations urged Putrajaya to cancel GIP's participation in MAHB, telling the Anwar-led government that its "commendable support for the Palestinian cause will be seen as merely hollow words" if it goes ahead with the plan.

Anwar has defended the decision while training his guns on opposition leaders whom he accuses of "incitement".

GIP's involvement in the deal has also been questioned by aviation experts who say it will not bring any added value to Malaysia's airports.

They also say that airports currently under GIP have not even made it to the list of best airports.

Meanwhile, Tian Chua said the "Tolak BlackRock" forum was not a last resort in the campaign to stop the airport deal and the firm from increasing its stake in Malaysia.

"Ultimately, the government must comply with the will of the people in its decisions.

"This is important because the airport is the most critical infrastructure and the main gateway in Malaysia," he said.

However, Singapore-based Channel News Asia reported that Putrajaya is unlikely to reverse its decision.

"This train has left the station and the time to back out is no longer an option because a formal offer has been made," CNA quoted a finance ministry official as saying.