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Israel condemns Malaysia's decision to bar its athletes from competing

Israeli Foreign Ministry says decision was based on 'Malaysia PM Mahathir's rabid anti-Semitism'
Swimmers compete during women's 4x100m medley relay final at Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur in 2017 (AFP)

Israel condemned Malaysia's ban on Israeli athletes taking part in international sporting events it hosts, saying the decision was inspired by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's "rabid anti-Semitism".

In a statement on Thursday, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon called on the International Paralympic Committee, which is organising the competition, to change the venue if it cannot persuade Malaysia to lift the edict.

"This is shameful and totally opposes the Olympic spirit," the statement said. "Israel condemns the decision, inspired no doubt by Malaysia PM Mahathir's rabid anti-Semitism."

Malaysia, a majority-Muslim country that does not maintain diplomatic relations with Israel, announced it would bar Israelis from any event in the Southeast Asia nation after banning Israeli athletes from the World Para Swimming championships this coming July.

Mahathir, 93, has for decades been accused of anti-Semitism for his attacks against Jews. In a BBC interview in October, he described Jews as "hook-nosed" and blamed them for the troubles in the Middle East.

Last week, Malaysian authorities refused to issue travel visas for two Israeli athletes competing in the World Para Swimming Championships 2019 in Kuching, on the island of Borneo, according to local media.

Malaysia bars Israeli athletes from World Para Swimming Championships
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Mahathir Mohamad said: “We will not allow them to enter. If they come, then it is an offence.” He told Malaysian media that it would be against national laws to issue visas for Israelis, as the country does not recognise Israel.

Swimmers from about 70 countries are expected to compete in the 29 July–4 August championships in the eastern state of Sarawak. The event is an important milestone towards next year's Tokyo Paralympics.

The International Paralympic Committee said in a statement that it was "bitterly disappointed at the stance of the Malaysian government" and the IPC governing board would discuss the matter at a meeting in London next week.

Thousands in Malaysia and neighbouring Indonesia took to the streets last December to protest against Washington's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Palestinians want occupied East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, as the capital of a state they seek to establish.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said on Wednesday that Malaysia would continue to take a strong position on the plight of the Palestinians. "It is about fighting on behalf of the oppressed," he said.

Israeli athletes have been banned in the past by countries that do not recognise Israel. They have also competed at events in Arab countries without national symbols, typically under the flag of the sports federation running the event.

Last year, Israeli athletes participated in a judo competition in Abu Dhabi under their own flag for the first time. Sports Minister Miri Regev wept next to the podium as the Israeli national anthem was played after an Israeli won a gold medal.