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Anwar defends deal with company owned by 'genocide tainted' BlackRock, attacks critics

The prime minister says he has always supported the Palestinian cause and mentions names of world leaders he has spoken to recently.

3 minute read
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has defended his decision to allow a company owned by controversial US fund manager BlackRock to buy shares in a consortium managing Malaysian airports, accusing his critics of trying to score political mileage.

Anwar also sidestepped the main criticism of the deal - the accusation of BlackRock's complicity in genocide due to its role in boosting Israeli economically and militarily.

Instead, he said that the government cannot cut ties with companies for having relations with Israel.

“What about companies that operate in the US, Germany or China but have ties to Israel?

"In the current situation, we cannot cut ties as it would affect the country's economy," Anwar told reporters when asked about the growing opposition to his plan to sell shares in Malaysia Airports Holdings (MAHB) to Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), a company owned by BlackRock.

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.

Yesterday, former minister Khairy Jamaluddin warned Anwar that he would be complicit in Israel's genocide in Gaza if he refused to scrap the plan.

He said the plan was not only morally unacceptable, but also did not make commercial sense.

Khairy said that the major airports in the region are managed locally and not by foreign entities.

"In Singapore, Changi is managed by Singaporeans, as are (the airports in) Thailand and Indonesia. (This deal) does not even pass the litmus test of necessity," he told a packed audience at a forum to protest the deal.

Under the deal, GIP will take a 30% stake in a consortium to manage MAHB, alongside the government's investment arm Khazanah Nasional and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), both entities under the jurisdiction of the finance ministry led by Anwar.

Speaking to reporters today, Anwar said he had been steadfast in highlighting the Palestinian issue and went on to mention several names of world leaders.

"Two days ago, I spoke to (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan about Gaza. Before that, the Pakistani prime minister asked about Gaza. During yesterday's talks with the Chinese prime minister, I emphasised the issue of Gaza once again," he said.

Anwar's defence of BlackRock's GIP is similar to the stance he took in early May when pro-Palestinian groups protested against the participation of defence companies with close ties to the Israeli military at a defence exhibition in Kuala Lumpur.

Anwar had said at the time that this was not a problem as long as the companies were not registered in Israel.

Critics said Anwar's stance raised the question of whether Malaysia would tolerate non-Israeli companies even if they aided Israel.

US-based defence firm Lockheed Martin, for example, states on its website that it is "proud of the significant role it has fulfilled in the security of the state of Israel".

Lockheed Martin is among US defence companies with the biggest investments and numerous agreements with Israeli defence companies.

Meanwhile, Anwar said today that it was he who banned ships owned by Israeli companies from docking in Malaysian ports late last year.

"But who allowed Israeli companies to operate here in the first place?" he asked, referring to a decision made more than two decades ago.

Anwar claimed that all previous governments had allowed Israeli cargo ships to enter, "including the former ministers who are making noise today".

However, last month, MalaysiaNow reported that the cargo ship ZIM Rotterdam, owned by Israeli company Zim Integrated Shipping Services, had docked at Port Klang on 29 April before sailing on to the Chinese port of Shantou a day later.

Transport Minister Anthony Loke later explained that the ship had changed ownership to a Hong Kong-based company.

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".