Kuala Lumpur: Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has branded Israel a “criminal state”, hitting back at a decision to strip Malaysia of the right to host a major swimming event for refusing to let Israelis participate.
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced at the weekend that Malaysia would no longer be staging the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships as authorities had failed to provide guarantees that Israelis could take part.
The championships, a qualifying event for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, were due to take place in Kuching from July 29-August 4.
Muslim-majority Malaysia has no diplomatic relations with the Jewish state and entry to the country on an Israeli passport is forbidden, but the IPC had received assurances in 2017 that all eligible athletes would be able to participate in the event.
However the situation changed after a new government headed by 93-year-old Mahathir, long notorious for his tirades against Israel and Jews, came to power in Malaysia last year.
Following the IPC decision, Mahathir struck a defiant note, with a long entry on his blog listing examples of what he claimed was unfair treatment of the Palestinians by Israel.
“Israel is a criminal state and deserves to be condemned,” he wrote late Monday.
“We maintain we have a right to bar Israelis from our country. When the world condemns us for this, we have a right to say that the world is being hypocritical.”
At least 245 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since March, mostly during protests and border clashes but also by tank fire and air strikes. Two Israeli soldiers have also been killed.
Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accuse Hamas of orchestrating the protests and argue that Israel’s actions are aimed at defending the border.
Meanwhile, Polish swimmer Bart Kizierowski — who represented his country at four Olympics — pulled out of a job coaching the Malaysian team due to the refusal to allow Israelis to attend the tournament, local media reported.
In a Facebook post, Kizierowski said he rejected the position due to Malaysia’s refusal to grant visas to some athletes, adding: “There is no place for that in sport.”
The Star newspaper reported that sports officials in Malaysia had already announced his appointment.