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Diplomatic Relations with Israel?

Malaysia has an inconsistent foreign policy.

Written by johnleemk on 2:58:19 pm Aug 6, 2007.

One of the more odd issues with Malaysian foreign policy is the government's attitude towards Israel. Diplomatic relations between our two countries are literally non-existent.

Of course, even if we did have diplomatic relations, I doubt they would be very good. Israel and the Jews are the favourite whipping boy of many local politicians; it was not too long ago that a particular Malaysian Prime Minister blamed the Asian financial crisis on a massive Jewish conspiracy.

(Well, as the Jewish economist Paul Krugman says, you do recall how back in '97, everyone on Wall Street was going around saying "Oy vey, sell the ringgit!"?)

There is, of course, a plausible and apparently reasonable rationale for our refusal to recognise Israel as a country — their treatment of the Palestinian people.

Some might recall that we once refused to recognise South Africa, cutting off diplomatic relations with them until they ended their policy of apartheid. Essentially, our position is that countries which mistreat and abuse human beings should not be recognised.

(There is a tinge of hypocrisy in this in that although our apartheid does not fall to the level of South African discrimination, we seem to be well on our way there.)

This past weekend, I attended the Malaysian Student Leaders Summit in Kuala Lumpur. Its main selling point was the seminars to be held by respected leaders from a variety of fields.

The scholar on international relations carefully explained Malaysia's thinking with regard to Israel, and how we have to alter their behaviour by refusing to hold any dialogue with them or enter into any relationship with them until there is change.

Later, when responding to a question on things like trade and relations with other abusive regimes, however, he took a different tack. Instead, he argued that we need some sort of dialogue with these countries so they will mend their ways.

We cannot have things both ways. Why did we treat Israel and South Africa differently, if our predominant thinking is that bad regimes are better shaped through talking and trading rather than boycotting?

I can't say for sure that we should normalise relations with Israel — I am inclined to think it's a good idea, but I don't know enough to make any sort of definitive statement. But what I can say is that we should examine our thinking before crafting our policies, because exceptions to the rule ought to have a reason for being.