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April 19, 2005

Malaysian Anti-Semitism Excused by Conservatives

Listed in: Other Foreign Policy, GOP Hypocrisies, NJDC News

Strange Bedfellows, Volume 1:

Conservatives and Malaysia

(This item is the first in an ongoing series intended to shine a light on the disturbing alliances formed by Republicans and conservatives.)

The Washington Post reported this weekend that financial interests appear to have led the influential right-wing Heritage Foundation to be more supportive of Malaysia and its virulently anti-Semitic leaders (click here for full article). Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad famously noted in a speech in October of 2003 that "Jews control the world," and that "Israel and the Jews are the enemy of 1.3 billion downtrodden Muslims."

The Post describes the Heritage Foundation as "one of Washington's most influential conservative think tanks," adding that with "a $30 million-plus annual budget, Heritage produces papers and policy statements that have influenced Republican administrations and the Republican congressional majority."

The Post article notes that the conservative think tank was at one time highly critical of Malaysia and its leaders. But the organization became much more accommodating in the summer of 2001, at the same time that a "consulting firm co-founded by Edwin J. Feulner, Heritage's president, began representing Malaysian business interests," according to the Post. Who else is on the Malaysian payroll? Feulner's wife -- Linda Feulner -- is a "senior adviser" for the firm, and Ken Sheffer, who is paid $75,000 per year by Heritage, is the chief operating officer of the same consulting firm.

The apparent result of this profitable relationship? A sudden shift in Heritage's views on Malaysia -- resulting in Heritage-sponsored briefings and trips to Malaysia for members of Congress, including then-House GOP whip Tom DeLay (for more information, click here). And shortly after Mahathir's 2003 screed against Jews, a Heritage scholar wrote that Congress "went too far in its efforts to punish Mahathir by passing an amendment to cut off military aid to Malaysia." The Heritage scholar actually tried to explain away the anti-Semitism of Malaysia's leader: "Judging Malaysian tolerance for people of the Jewish faith is more difficult because Malaysia has no discernible Jewish community."

"It is repugnant that business interests could lead any non-profit 'think-tank' to try to explain away the virulent anti-Semitism of Malaysia's past leaders, or to defend their repressive policies," said National Jewish Democratic Council Executive Director Ira N. Forman. "No sanction should ever be given to rhetoric as unacceptable as Mahathir's. Unfortunately, after Mahathir made those comments in 2003, it took President Bush four days and a great deal of domestic criticism before the White House let it be known that Bush privately chastised Mahathir. In contrast, as the Post article notes, 'On a visit to the country, Vice President Al Gore in 1998 pointedly praised government dissidents and walked out of a banquet in protest of Mahathir's policies.'

"These sordid financial ties between the Heritage Foundation and a consulting firm that takes Malaysian money -- and the apparent impact on Heritage's work -- is deeply troubling, but not surprising. In the coming months, NJDC will continue to shine a light on similarly disturbing relationships formed by top Republicans and conservatives," Forman added.