"Mr. Mahathir's Brains"


By Rabbi Avi Shafran


Muslim hatred of Jews, so tragically commonplace these days, has to be pretty impressive for The New York Times to label it "toxic," but the Malaysian Prime Minister's diatribe at the recent Islamic summit in his country well earned the Gray Lady's editorial epithet.

Addressing the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, Mahathir Mohamad encouraged the Islamic world to fight its enemies (a large part of the rest of humanity, it seems). He singled out Jews because they, he explained, seek to subjugate humanity. Since, however, six million of them were killed in the Holocaust, he elucidated further, the remnant is today compelled to "rule the world by proxy," utilizing others "to fight and die for them."

Not that the Malaysian leader lacked kind words for Jews. He labeled us "a people who think." And while he seemed to intend it as something other than a compliment, he credited us too with the invention of concepts like "human rights and democracy," which he included in a list of nefarious societal developments.

Mr. Mahathir's musings were well received. His speech received, in The Times' words, "unanimous applause from the kings, presidents and emirs in the audience." The Egyptian foreign minister characterized the address as "a very, very wise assessment," and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose bodyguards protect him from Islamic compatriots who seek his murder, offered his sage judgment that the Malaysian leader's tirade was "very correct."

And although several individual European countries registered offense at Mr. Mahathir's speech, the European Union, after mulling the issue, chose silence.

While the press has been full of reports on the speech, and commentary about it both pointed and clueless (like Paul Krugman's casual dismissal of the anti-Semitism as merely "part of Mr. Mahathir's domestic balancing"), one telling irony seems to have been overlooked. The day of Mr. Mahathir's tirade was a day when Jews around the world gathered too, in synagogues. It was one of the intermediate days of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

And an unusual holiday it is. While Jewish festivals tend to focus on the Jewish people and its historical narrative, Sukkot, interestingly, also includes what might be described as a "universalist" element. For in ancient times, the seven days of Sukkot saw seventy sacrifices offered by the Jewish priests at Jerusalem's Holy Jewish Temple in recognition of "the seventy nations of the world." (Had the ancient Romans known just how greatly they benefited from the merit of the Temple service, the Talmud remarks, they would have placed protective guards around the structure, instead of destroying it.)

So, as Mr. Mahathir was railing against Jews, hundreds of thousands of traditional Jews were invoking God's blessings on humanity, recalling in their special holiday prayers those sacrifices on behalf of the "nations of the world".

While Mr. Mahathir was declaring that the world's "1.3 billion Muslims" need "guns and rockets, bombs and warplanes, tanks and warships" to fight its "much smaller enemy," that very enemy was not plotting but rather praying, and pining for peace and for humankind's recognition of its Creator.

To his credit, Mr. Mahathir conceded that, munitions aside, "we must use our brains also."

One hopes he follows his own advice. For if his head somehow manages to overcome whatever ugly organ it is that secretes paranoia and mindless hatred, he might come to realize that while there is indeed a Jewish mission, it isn't to subjugate but to serve, not to attack but to aspire - to lives of dedication to God and man.



[Rabbi Avi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America

To subscribe, contact: shafran@agudathisrael.org]

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