Malaysia under UMNO is like Israel Helen Ang Dec 31, 08 3:37pm
Air strikes on Gaza over the weekend have aggravated the Israeli Arab’s growing disaffection with the state, suggest some Israeli writers.
Popular author Benny Morris, who is professor of Middle Eastern history at Ben-Gurion University, wrote an opinion-editorial in the New York Times on Monday titled Why Israel feels threatened on the challenges Israel is currently facing, including fraught relations with its minorities.
Allow me to compare Morris’ description with our own situation here. There is no exact parallel as we’re not in a war zone but Malaysia is somewhat like Israel in some ways.
The national policies of both countries contain elements of apartheid which serve to segregate communities. Israel is constitutionally a Jewish state in nature and its founding document reflects a race-preoccupied social contract too. The Declaration of Independence mentions only the history, culture and collective memory of the Jewish people; too bad for the Arabs who form one-fifth of Israel’s population.
israel soldier sayaret golaniIts ‘law of return’ allows Jewish immigration from any part of the world and Israel has received among others, African Jews and Indian Jews plus an influx of Soviet Jews when the old USSR disintegrated.
On the other hand, an Arab who is an Israeli citizen cannot just as easily bring home his Palestinian bride from West Bank. Compare with Malaysia’s permanent residency requirements for foreign spouses of the different races.
In Israel, its religious law halacha mandates conversion to Judaism in mixed marriages. In Malaysia, anyone marrying a Malay must convert to Islam. On matters relating to birth, death and marriage, an Israeli cannot turn to a civil court, meaning he has no secular recourse in these areas. Neither does the Malay who is governed by syariah.
Restaurants, factories and public buildings are obliged to adhere to the kosher practices of Jews, and public space are Judaisised under state policy. In Malaysia, we adhere to halal practices and additionally in schools, and public space are Islamised.
Israel’s law recognises and protects Jewish holy sites alone. Cemeteries, seminaries and religious institutions are built for Jews but not for Arabs. Palestinian legal aid organisation Adalah, in a report titled ‘Institutionalised Discrimination’, said during the 1990s typically 98 percent of the Religious Affairs Ministry budget was allocated for Jewish houses of worship and religious services.
Need I elaborate on Malaysia’s practices in this respect?
Why Israel/Malays feel threatened
With apology and thanks to Prof Morris for my borrowing his writing, let’s explore the ideas below.
Morris on Israel’s siege mentality: ‘First, the Arab and wider Islamic worlds…have never truly accepted the legitimacy of Israel’s creation and continue to oppose its existence.’
Some Malays regret my Chinese forefathers coming, and do not accept the full legitimacy of my presence – hence my second-class citizenship – while willing to grant a first generation Muslim from Indonesia or the Philippines bumiputera privileges.
Morris writes: ‘Second, public opinion in the West (and in democracies, governments can’t be far behind) is gradually reducing its support for Israel as the West looks askance at the Jewish state’s treatment of its Palestinian neighbors and wards. The Holocaust is increasingly becoming a faint and ineffectual memory and the Arab states are increasingly powerful and assertive.’
Public opinion in the West is gradually looking askance at Malaysia’s treatment of its minorities. The countries of origin of these minorities are increasingly powerful and assertive; Indian Malaysians revolted with Hindraf and Chinese Malaysians are grumbling louder.
Morris writes: ‘But the attack will not solve the basic problem posed by a Gaza Strip populated by 1.5 million impoverished, desperate Palestinians who are ruled by a fanatic regime and are tightly hemmed in by fences and by border crossings controlled by Israel and Egypt.’
The verbal attacks by Umno ministers and their agents on Hindraf supporters, as well as the authorities punishing the movement and its leaders – and even Jerit cyclists – will not solve the basic problem posed by a Tamil underclass of impoverished, desperate Indians who are ruled by a fascist-like regime and tightly hemmed in by state-erected social barriers, a lack of upward mobility and exclusion from affirmative action programmes.
Sense of wall closing in
Malaysia’s existence is not threatened but the recent spate of demonstrations and fiery rhetoric on Malay special rights indicate how some insecure folks see their minority neighbours as existential threats.
Morris writes: ‘The fourth immediate threat to Israel’s existence is internal. It is posed by the country’s Arab minority. Over the past two decades, Israel’s 1.3 million Arab citizens have been radicalised, with many openly avowing a Palestinian identity and embracing Palestinian national aims.’
a. Radicalised: Have the Indians been radicalised by Hindraf? If you read or listen to only the mainstream, especially Malay mass media and official channels spewing government propaganda, what would you think?
Have the Chinese been radicalised by March 8? If a Malay reads or listens only to the official mouthpieces, what would he think?
Identity: Undeniably, Chinese Malaysians over the past two decades have become increasingly sinicised. Today between 90 and 95 percent are estimated to attend Chinese schools. The Star group editor Wong Chun Wai is in favour of bringing back the English-medium of instruction and calls the Chinese educationists ‘racist groups’.
c. National aims: Morris writes that Israel believes the loyalty of its Arabs lies with Palestinians rather than with the state.
When prime minister designate Najib Razak says his government wants to assist the advancement of Malays elsewhere who are of other nationalities, what does it reveal of his racialist orientation, not to mention his low regard of our common nationality?
And what about those who want to put immigrant-squatters on a boat ‘balik Tongsan’ (China) and ‘balik Kalinga’ (India)? What does this popular demand tell about that Umno-type mindset?
Morris writes that ‘most Jews see the Arab minority as a potential fifth column’.
If Israeli Arabs are alleged to identify with their country’s enemies Hamas and Hezbollah, some Malays accuse Chinese Malaysians of siding with Singapore and another segment expects the Chinese to cheer for China should our two national badminton teams or players meet.
Unreal reflection in the mirror
Demographics offer another interesting comparison and contrast. The birthrates for Israeli Arabs are among the highest in the world with four or five children per family, according to Morris. He writes: ‘If present trends persist, Arabs could constitute the majority of Israel’s citizens by 2040 or 2050.’
Minorities are dwindling rapidly against the Malay prolific annual birthrate and this coupled with emigration and religious conversion will see the numerical ratio of bumiputera at a most satisfactory Muslim majority sooner rather later.
In Malaysian blogosphere now, there is the usual schism. The Malay-Muslim voices have been unequivocally pro-Palestinian. The non-Malay, non-Muslim voices have tended to be more accommodating of Israel’s self-justification.
Predictably, there was a protest against Israel at the American embassy yesterday and anger over the deaths in Gaza – ‘several hundred Hamas fighters were killed’ says Morris but he omits to mention the civilian casualties.
During the recent terrorist attack (right) on Mumbai, similarly, several hundred Indian security forces, civilians and foreigners in total were killed and injured.
Did the Malaysians, who are now bristling at Israel, earlier show an outpouring of rage for the dead in Mumbai? Did the ones chanting slogans at the American embassy extend condolences to the family of the Indian Malaysian victim?
Yesterday, it was reported that 400 people were slaughtered in Christmas massacres in the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo – burned alive in their homes, villagers decapitated or killed with machetes, axes and clubs. Where is the Malaysian outcry?
Malaysia is akin to Israel in insisting the international community should view the country just as the wonderful, fair-minded democracy it miraculously manages to see itself in the smoked mirror.