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Thursday February 16, 2012

Israel angle goes all wrong

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim may have bitten off more than he can chew with his recent statement supporting Israel’s security after PAS leaders came down hard on him to make a retraction.

ISSUES related to Islam and Palestine have demonstrated time and again their explosive potential to influence voters, especially Muslims who form nearly 65% of Malaysian voters.

This is especially so with a general election on the cards within six months or so and Muslim leaders, of all shapes and sizes, taking positions and grand-standing on Islamic issues and the question of Palestine.

What is especially shocking is that PAS leaders — president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and spiritual adviser Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat — have repudiated a statement by ally and Pakatan Rakyat leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to the Wall Street Journal on Jan 26 that he supported “all efforts to protect the security of the state of Israel”.

And they repudiated it — in no uncertain terms, with Abdul Hadi calling any such statement as clearly un-Islamic — without mentioning Anwar after a party central committee meeting on Saturday.

Nik Aziz went a step further by asking Anwar, after a Syura Council meeting on Monday, to retract the statement supporting Israel’s security.

He said PAS did not recognise Israel and rejected a two-state solution for the Palestine-Israel conflict.

“I urged Anwar to immediately retract the WSJ statement. PAS stands by its principles and does not recognise Israel,” he said, stating the party’s clear division with Anwar over his remarks on Israel’s se- curity.

But the repudiation comes after weeks of Anwar being lambasted by world Islamists, including London-based clerics, Indonesian and Palestinian leaders over the statement in WSJ, which was an isolated remark at the end of an interview.

They expressed shock that Anwar should be concerned at all with the security of Israel, seeing the state as the aggressor in the conflict, having dispossessed the Palestinians of their homeland, bombed them continuously and built a wall to keep them out.

Their statements added pressure on the PAS leaders to create distance between them and Anwar, and finally after weeks of mounting pressure, the two most important and highest ranking leaders in PAS hierarchy repudiated Anwar’s statement.

But not before the party’s former deputy president Nasarudin Mat Isa travelled to Kuwait and upstaged PAS leaders by meeting Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, as president of the al-Quds Malaysian Foundation.

Nasharuddin conveyed Haniyeh’s “shock and disappointment” over Anwar’s statement at his house yesterday and showed photographs of him standing with the Palestinian leader.

Haniyeh wanted to know why Anwar had expressed such sentiments for Israel, according to Nasharuddin, when a 1998 fatwa by 66 international muftis decreed that any action that gave recognition to Israel opposed Islam.

Anwar’s statement has widespread implications for Muslims, especially with a general election in the offing, forcing PAS leaders to distance themselves and make a clear break between the party and the PKR adviser.

PAS leaders have been forced to swallow their pride, especially Nik Aziz, who is the staunchest of Anwar’s supporters, over this issue which goes to the very essence of being a Muslim.

By making the statement — which is just one paragraph — Anwar might have made an inadvertent mistake or wanted to repair the damage done with Washington players on the “Beltway”, who are also Israel lobbyists whose fervour for the former deputy prime minister cooled following a 2010 incident.

In June that year Anwar, who was once described by Washington players as the face of liberal democracy, had lambasted Umno for its relationship with APCO, an American public relations firm.

In Parliament, he said the firm was “controlled by Zionists” and working on behalf of Israel to influence Malaysian government policy.

He said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s 1Malaysia policy was previously One Israel of Ehud Barak and was thought up by APCO — charges denied by both the Govern-ment and the public relations firm.

The pro-Israel lobby in Washington were angered with Anwar and they urged American officials to suspend their ties with Anwar, calling his “anti-Jewish” and “anti-Israel” stance as slander against Israel.

Anwar might have felt keenly the loss of overt official American support for his causes, which had not moved beyond the US State Department’s “lip service” compared to active support when he was charged for Sodomy 2 in 2008.

The State Department also issued a statement welcoming his acquittal from the Sodomy 2 charge.

Besides, current US Ambassador Paul Jones has built a close rapport with Najib, even dressing in Malay costume and visiting Pekan.

Anwar might have been persuaded to make the “Israel” statement, calculating that it might recoup his standing in Washington circles, which he highly values.

But the statement has led to worldwide condemnation instead and questioning of his Islamic credentials and, back home, a rupture with his most important ally, PAS.

His rivals in Umno and also in PAS continue to play up his “Israel security” statement and question his Islamic credentials and with a general election in the offing, this is one problem too many for Anwar to face.

At stake are the crucial Muslim voters, who are easily influenced on matters involving Islam and Palestine.

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