Calif. legislators rap Malaysian leaders anti-Semitic remarks

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LOS ANGELES — California legislators in the Senate and House have vigorously protested remarks by the prime minister of Malaysia, who apparently blamed the weakening of his country's currency on a Jewish conspiracy.

In a speech to an audience of 10,000, Mahathir Mohamad singled out financier George Soros as aiding a suspected Jewish agenda to destabilize the currency and block Muslims' progress.

Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, in a speech read into the Congressional Record, said she was shocked by Mahathir's "patently outrageous, hateful and blatantly anti-Semitic" remarks. Boxer, who lives in Greenbrae, demanded an immediate apology from the prime minister.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Mission Hills) said in a phone interview that "after years of efforts to encourage American investments and technological aid for Malaysia, the prime minister's vicious and insulting outbursts will have profoundly negative effects."

Berman, who visited Malaysia last November as the ranking Democratic member of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific of the House International Relations Committee, promised, "I won't let this issue die."

Berman's letter of protest was also signed by Doug Bereuter (R-Nebraska), chairman of the subcommittee, as well as by Benjamin A. Gilman (R-N.Y.) and Lee Hamilton (D-Indiana), chair and ranking member respectively of the International Relations Committee.

Earlier, Mahathir also came under attack from the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said that Mahathir's statement was "consistent with his long record of anti-Semitism and belief in a Jewish conspiracy to bring about the downfall of Malaysia."

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, charged that by playing "the stereotypical racist card, [the prime minister] will only bolster extremist forces throughout the Muslim world."

After Mahathir's remarks were sharply criticized by opposition parties inside Malaysia, the prime minister claimed that he had been misquoted by his country's media.

Islam is the official state religion of Malaysia, whose population has a slight Muslim majority. The country has no diplomatic ties with Israel and Israeli travelers are not admitted.

Tom Tugend

JTA Los Angeles correspondent