NEW YORK, Oct. 19 (JTA) – American Jewish groups have reacted angrily to anti-Semitic remarks recently made by Malaysia’s prime minister. The World Jewish Congress said last Friday it would complain to the U.N. Human Rights Commission about the remarks of Mahathir Mohammad, who blamed Jews for his country’s financial troubles. The Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the American Jewish Committee all released statements criticizing Mahathir. “The Prime Minister’s slanders are from a detailed script – a history of racist invective that has hounded and brought destruction to Jews for centuries,” said a letter the AJCommittee sent to Malaysia’s ambassador to the United States. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said that by playing “the stereotypical racist card, [Mahathir] will only bolster extremist forces throughout the Muslim world.” While speaking Oct. 10 before a crowd estimated at 10,000 in a Muslim village, Mahathir said he suspected Jewish groups had an “agenda” to block the progress of Muslims. Mahathir added that the recent decline of Malaysia’s currency, the ringgit, could be the work of Jews. As he had on previous occasions, Mahathir singled out George Soros, a wealthy Jewish investor and philanthropist, for deliberately trying to hurt the Malaysian economy by indulging in currency speculation. Mahathir again drew criticism when he denied the comments the following day. “I only made a statement, but the press went on to say that I was accusing the Jews. We cannot make such wild accusations,” he said. “They will twist our arms.” Meanwhile, opposition politicians in Malaysia have criticized the prime minister’s remarks, as have newspapers in Australia and in the Pacific Rim. “The Malaysian prime minister is a dangerously irresponsible racist and a major threat to the stability of the southeast Asian region,” the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper said in an editorial. The Thai newspaper The Nation ran an editorial saying Mahathir is a “racist” who has “outlived his usefulness.” Observers believe that by attacking Jews, Mahathir is trying to shift the blame for the recent slide in the ringgit. Approximately 20 million people live in Malaysia. More than half of them are Muslims. Malaysia and Israel do not have diplomatic ties, and Israeli citizens are not allowed to visit Malaysia. (JTA correspondents Tom Tugend in Los Angeles and Jeremy Jones in Sydney contributed to this report.)
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