Malaysia should scrap its ban on visas for Israelis

As demonstrated by the Feb. 13 openly public murder of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's ruler, Kim Jong-un, the regime in Pyongyang continues with its tradition of ordering killings of those it views as a threat to its power.  This hit job is part and parcel of the regime's sponsoring various crimes beyond its own shores over the years for purposes of raising hard currency and protecting its power.

A few examples of this nefarious behavior are kidnappings of Japanese nationals during the 1970s and 1980s, the 1983 Rangoon bombing and attempted assassination of South Korean president Chun Doo-hwan, the production and sale of illegal drugs and imitation goods, human trafficking, arms proliferation, and counterfeiting currency.

In light of this, Malaysia's March 2 announcement of the scrapping of its visa-free entry for North Korean nationals is a wise policy reversal and a step in the right direction toward public safety and security in the country.

Yet the recent fallout between Malaysia and North Korea over Kim Jong-nam's murder ought to spur in Malaysia a re-evaluation of its stance and policies toward Israel.

Yes, Israel. 

For decades, Malaysia has forbidden Israeli passport holders from entering its country.  While Malaysia is not alone in this ludicrous practice – 15 other countries follow the same policy – the recent dust-up over Kim Jong-nam's Feb. 13 assassination ought to put things in perspective for Malaysian authorities.  The country's policymakers would be well advised to consider the following:

For starters, Israeli nationals have never used Malaysian soil – or anywhere in Southeast Asia, for that matter – for state-sponsored illicit activities, particularly the likes of what North Korea has been guilty of committing for years now.

Second – and this is common knowledge – for some time, Israelis have made numerous contributions throughout the Asia-Pacific to the arts, sciences, medicine, business, high-tech industry, and disaster response and recovery, among many other areas.  This doesn't smack of a clear and present danger to the legitimacy of the Malaysian government or to the well-being of Malaysian citizens.  [Editor's note: In fact, Israeli officials have said they get along cordially with the Malaysian government behind closed doors.]

Third, Malaysia is clearly concerned about maintaining its "street cred" among the Saudis and elsewhere in the Middle East – the Middle Easterners consider the Malays and Indonesians not quite Muslim enough, and some go as far to think they are "savages."  This is one reason for Malaysia's hard line on Israel.  Yet granting visas to Israeli nationals does not have to be a highly publicized process and need not involve highly scrutinized developments, such as the establishing of diplomatic relations.  Look no farther than Malaysia's neighbor, Indonesia, to observe how a Muslim country can hold a quiet, respectful bilateral relationship with Israel – focusing on trade, security and tourism – while not holding formal diplomatic ties.

Lastly, Malaysia's longest serving prime minister, Mahathir bin Mohamad, while unquestionably having served Malaysia well in terms of modernizing its economy and raising living standards, did great damage to relations with Israel and the Jewish people during his time in office from 1981 to 2003.  Rabidly anti-Semitic, Mahathir never hesitated to propagate many of the typical canards against Jews.

As examples, in 1986, Mahathir asserted that The Wall Street Journal was controlled by Jews and part of a Zionist plot to overthrow his regime, and in a 2003 speech, he urged Muslims to unite against Jews, who, he argued, "rule the world by proxy.  They get others to fight and die for them." 

Not surprisingly, Mahathir's many calumnies toward Jews provided justification and cover for the government's anti-Israel policies, which still exist today.  Sadly, Mahathir's lies also made inroads into some sectors of Malaysian society, breeding hate against Israel and the Jewish people.  With no exposure to Israelis from tourism, Malaysians remain benighted and ignorant.

Clearly, the anti-Israel policies and hate that Mahathir instilled in Malaysia have brought his country no benefits, tangible or otherwise.  A new approach is long overdue.

Fortunately, Mahathir is no longer in office, and his vitriol never took root among the region's other societies.  While not without challenges, by and large, Israel maintains good to excellent diplomatic relations with most Asian states.  Some of the more productive relations are with China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, India, Burma, and Australia. 

So, Malaysia, why not get on board with so many of your peers in your own backyard and improve relations with Israel rather than maintaining anti-Israeli policies and dead-end relationships like that with the murderous North Korean regime?  Your people and the world deserve a more humane and thoughtful foreign policy.

Malaysia, it's time to abandon outmoded thinking and intolerance.  Break free from your absurd practice of marching in lockstep with your Arab counterparts' anti-Israel policies, and while you're at it, dump Pyongyang.

Try starting with baby steps. Quiet baby steps, like issuing visas to Israelis.

Ted Gover, Ph.D. is instructor of political science at Central Texas College, U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.

As demonstrated by the Feb. 13 openly public murder of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's ruler, Kim Jong-un, the regime in Pyongyang continues with its tradition of ordering killings of those it views as a threat to its power.  This hit job is part and parcel of the regime's sponsoring various crimes beyond its own shores over the years for purposes of raising hard currency and protecting its power.

A few examples of this nefarious behavior are kidnappings of Japanese nationals during the 1970s and 1980s, the 1983 Rangoon bombing and attempted assassination of South Korean president Chun Doo-hwan, the production and sale of illegal drugs and imitation goods, human trafficking, arms proliferation, and counterfeiting currency.

In light of this, Malaysia's March 2 announcement of the scrapping of its visa-free entry for North Korean nationals is a wise policy reversal and a step in the right direction toward public safety and security in the country.

Yet the recent fallout between Malaysia and North Korea over Kim Jong-nam's murder ought to spur in Malaysia a re-evaluation of its stance and policies toward Israel.

Yes, Israel. 

For decades, Malaysia has forbidden Israeli passport holders from entering its country.  While Malaysia is not alone in this ludicrous practice – 15 other countries follow the same policy – the recent dust-up over Kim Jong-nam's Feb. 13 assassination ought to put things in perspective for Malaysian authorities.  The country's policymakers would be well advised to consider the following:

For starters, Israeli nationals have never used Malaysian soil – or anywhere in Southeast Asia, for that matter – for state-sponsored illicit activities, particularly the likes of what North Korea has been guilty of committing for years now.

Second – and this is common knowledge – for some time, Israelis have made numerous contributions throughout the Asia-Pacific to the arts, sciences, medicine, business, high-tech industry, and disaster response and recovery, among many other areas.  This doesn't smack of a clear and present danger to the legitimacy of the Malaysian government or to the well-being of Malaysian citizens.  [Editor's note: In fact, Israeli officials have said they get along cordially with the Malaysian government behind closed doors.]

Third, Malaysia is clearly concerned about maintaining its "street cred" among the Saudis and elsewhere in the Middle East – the Middle Easterners consider the Malays and Indonesians not quite Muslim enough, and some go as far to think they are "savages."  This is one reason for Malaysia's hard line on Israel.  Yet granting visas to Israeli nationals does not have to be a highly publicized process and need not involve highly scrutinized developments, such as the establishing of diplomatic relations.  Look no farther than Malaysia's neighbor, Indonesia, to observe how a Muslim country can hold a quiet, respectful bilateral relationship with Israel – focusing on trade, security and tourism – while not holding formal diplomatic ties.

Lastly, Malaysia's longest serving prime minister, Mahathir bin Mohamad, while unquestionably having served Malaysia well in terms of modernizing its economy and raising living standards, did great damage to relations with Israel and the Jewish people during his time in office from 1981 to 2003.  Rabidly anti-Semitic, Mahathir never hesitated to propagate many of the typical canards against Jews.

As examples, in 1986, Mahathir asserted that The Wall Street Journal was controlled by Jews and part of a Zionist plot to overthrow his regime, and in a 2003 speech, he urged Muslims to unite against Jews, who, he argued, "rule the world by proxy.  They get others to fight and die for them." 

Not surprisingly, Mahathir's many calumnies toward Jews provided justification and cover for the government's anti-Israel policies, which still exist today.  Sadly, Mahathir's lies also made inroads into some sectors of Malaysian society, breeding hate against Israel and the Jewish people.  With no exposure to Israelis from tourism, Malaysians remain benighted and ignorant.

Clearly, the anti-Israel policies and hate that Mahathir instilled in Malaysia have brought his country no benefits, tangible or otherwise.  A new approach is long overdue.

Fortunately, Mahathir is no longer in office, and his vitriol never took root among the region's other societies.  While not without challenges, by and large, Israel maintains good to excellent diplomatic relations with most Asian states.  Some of the more productive relations are with China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, India, Burma, and Australia. 

So, Malaysia, why not get on board with so many of your peers in your own backyard and improve relations with Israel rather than maintaining anti-Israeli policies and dead-end relationships like that with the murderous North Korean regime?  Your people and the world deserve a more humane and thoughtful foreign policy.

Malaysia, it's time to abandon outmoded thinking and intolerance.  Break free from your absurd practice of marching in lockstep with your Arab counterparts' anti-Israel policies, and while you're at it, dump Pyongyang.

Try starting with baby steps. Quiet baby steps, like issuing visas to Israelis.

Ted Gover, Ph.D. is instructor of political science at Central Texas College, U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.

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