KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 3 — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim must not let his administration be drawn into approaching the Israel-Hamas war from a religious perspective as this would allow rivals in Perikatan Nasional engage in polarising one-upmanship, analysts said.
Anwar should also avoid the temptation of using related aid and relief efforts in the conflict to build support among the Malay-Muslims as this would expose him to similar attacks and accusations of exploiting Malaysia’s consistent support for Palestine, they added.
“The Anwar government should take the opportunity to turn the Palestinian cause into a rallying cry that transcends religion and ethnicity since it is a humanitarian and human rights crisis,” associate professor at the School of Social Sciences at Universiti Sains Malaysia Azmil Tayeb told Malay Mail when contacted.
“He has failed to do that and instead falls into the trap of seeing the conflict as between Muslims and Jews, playing the same game as his Islamist opposition.”
Since the breakout of the Israel-Hamas war last month, Anwar has spoken strongly in support of Palestine while condemning Israel’s military aggression and illegal occupation of Palestinian territory in the decades-long conflict.
Parts of his government have taken matters further, such as the Education Ministry organising a Palestine Solidarity Week for students, which turned controversial after one school organised a session for children to dress up as Palestinian fighters brandishing replica guns.
After some parties in Anwar’s unity government criticised the incident and programme, Islamist opposition party PAS seized on this to accuse them of being more sympathetic to Israel over Palestine.
While there has been suspicion of pandering in the issue, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) political science lecturer Prof Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid said Anwar’s position has been consistent with that of previous prime ministers including Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Ahmad Fauzi went on to say that Malaysians in general should avoid viewing the issue through a religious lens, and see it instead as a humanitarian crisis affecting people regardless of faith.
“Not all Palestinians support Hamas or are even religious, beside the fact that the Palestinian cause is backed by its large Christian community with luminaries such as Hanan Ashrawi and Azmi Bishara. Even the hospital bombed by Israel recently was operated by Anglicans.
“So, there is much for Malaysian non-Muslims to not be repelled by the outpouring of sympathy and aid for Palestinians. The problem with Malaysians is we see every seemingly religious issue through a communal landscape,” he told Malay Mail.
Despite the predictability of Anwar’s position, however, his claim of being “threatened” by Western powers over this has led to him being called an “alarmist.”
PAS secretary-general Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan cast doubt over the alleged threats by saying previous Malaysian PMs had been openly critical of Israel in previous flare-ups yet none ever claimed of being threatened for this.
On Tuesday, Anwar also disclosed that Malaysia’s ambassador to the US was called up by the State Department in Washington, DC, and served with a démarche, or formal diplomatic note, regarding Malaysia’s declared stance in the Israel-Hamas war.
Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research (NASR) senior fellow Azmi Hassan said political rivals were resorting to criticising such matters as Anwar has cemented Malaysia’s commitment to support Palestine by meeting with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.
“Anwar meeting Ismail Haniyeh personally was in my opinion the ultimatum of what Malaysia’s stance in this conflict would be and what Anwar is doing is nothing new. It has been done by all previous prime ministers, and as such, it has nothing to do with who has more support from the Malay-Muslims in Malaysia.
“In fact, what he (Anwar) did makes it difficult for PAS to criticise him because he has in fact shown where his support lies and that is why I feel PAS have been very quiet about criticising him be it during Parliament sessions or out in the open.
“This is because Anwar has done more than what is required,” said Azmi.
The latest conflict in Gaza began on October 7 when Hamas launched attacks into southern Israel and reportedly killed over 1,400 Israelis including civilians.
Israel retaliated by launching air strikes on the Gaza Strip as well as cutting off food, water, electricity, and fuel to the area with an estimated two million Palestinians. Late in October, Israel launched a ground invasion directly into Gaza.