One could have been forgiven for thinking, during a 60 Minutes interview with former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in March, that the one-time strongman of Malaysian politics had mellowed out significantly.
Talking about corruption in Malaysia currently, Mahathir appeared kind, gentle and softly spoken, and even shared a laugh with reporter Ross Coulthart over famously being labelled recalcitrant by former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating in the early 1990s.
Once considered an uncompromising, ruthless political operator, Mahathir came across more like a teddy bear.
We now know after an interview with Al Jazeera’s Medhi Hasan on June 24, that at least when it comes to his antisemitism – far from being a teddy bear – Mahathir is as hateful as he ever was.
Defending a 2003 statement in which he said “the Jews rule the world by proxy”, the former Malaysian PM didn’t back down.
Mahathir: I believe I am speaking the truth. You look at America, it is totally dedicated to supporting Israel.
Medhi: But why are you conflating Israel with all Jews? All Jews are not responsible for Israel.
Mahathir: Why not?
Medhi: Should all Muslims be conflated with ISIL then? If everyone is collectively held responsible for the actions of people in their faith?
Mahathir: No it shouldn’t. Because we are not working in that direction. What I said was that the Jews are ruling the world by proxy.
Medhi: That’s an outrageous claim with no evidence… That is an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory … What is your evidence for the fact that Jews are quote, “ruling the world”?
Mahathir: There are not very many Jews in this world. By themselves they cannot rule this world, but they can influence countries to do the work for them, and America is very much under Jewish influence. That is why it supports Israel, whether Israel is doing the right thing or not, whether it commits crimes or not.
This shouldn’t be surprising for a man who in 1970 wrote “the Jews for example are not merely hook-nosed, but understand money instinctively”, blamed the collapse of Malaysia’s currency during the 1997 Asian financial crisis on a Jewish conspiracy and in 2012 stated “I am glad to be labelled anti-Semitic“.
It appears age hasn’t softened Mahathir, after all.