Israel–Malaysia relations

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Israel–Malaysia relations
Map indicating locations of Israel and Malaysia



Israel–Malaysia relations (Hebrew: יחסי ישראל-מלזיה‎; Arabic: العلاقات الإسرائيلية الماليزيةalealaqat al'iisrayiyliat almalizia; Malay: Hubungan Israel–Malaysia; Jawi: هوبوڠن إسرائيل–مليسيا) refers to commercial and cultural ties between Israel and Malaysia. The two countries do not maintain formal diplomatic relations, mainly due to Malaysia's pro-Palestinian stance. Malaysian passports bear the inscription: "This passport is valid for all countries except Israel". Israeli passport holders are not permitted to enter Malaysia without written permission from the Malaysian Ministry of Home Affairs.


The Jewish Cemetery at Zainal Abidin Street (previously Jalan Yahudi or Jew/Jewish Street) in George Town, Malaysia is believed to be the oldest in Southeast Asia, as previously there was a Jewish enclave in the island of Penang before the inhabitants gradually emigrated or died out.[1]

Israeli foreign minister Moshe Sharett visited Kuala Lumpur in 1956, the year prior to the independence of the Federation of Malaya. He described the reception of his proposal to appoint an Israeli consul as "favourable without hesitation" on the part of his tengku host. When Malaya's bid for membership in the United Nations came up in 1957, Israel voted in support of Malaya's acceptance. By the early 1960s, the Malayans had declined numerous Israeli attempts to formalise low-level relations, explaining that domestic radical-Islamic opposition and foreign Arab pressures had put Malaya in a sensitive position vis-à-vis Israel.[2]

As negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians gained momentum in the early 1990s, Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad considered establishing actual diplomatic relations with Israel. Chua Jui Meng, then Deputy Minister of International Trade and Industry, suggested in 1994 that Israel's market could eventually become a destination for Malaysian investments.[3] However, Mahathir then accused his critics of being agents of Zionism and has accused Zionists of undermining Malaysia's integrity and trying to destroy Islam.[4]:45–47 Mahathir had sent letters to Israeli prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak in the years 1993, 1997 and 1999, respectively. In 2012 the contents of these letters were made public to dispel allegations that Mahathir's government had moved in the direction of recognising the State of Israel.[5] In February 2018, Malaysia allowed a team of Israeli diplomat delegation led by David Roet to attend a conference hosted by United Nations Human Settlements Programme. This is the first time since 1965 that an Israel diplomat visited Malaysia. Malaysia, as a member of the United Nations, is required to grant visas to all delegates who attend UN-associated international conferences.[6][7]

Commercial relations[edit]

In 1971, Malaysian imports from Israel exceeded M$11 million while exports to Israel totalled more than M$2 million. Malaysia imposed a ban on trade with Israel in 1974.[4]:23 According to the Israel–Asia Centre, trade between Israel and Malaysia is conducted through intermediate countries such as Singapore and Thailand rather than directly.

Between 2000 and 2001, exports to Malaysia from Israel's Intel computer chip factory in Kiryat Gat were responsible for US$600–700 million.[8]

A 2002 report on Israel's trade relations with Indonesia and Malaysia from Israel's Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labour advised Israelis interested in conducting business with Malaysian companies that "there is no opposition to trade and commercial relations as long as a low profile is kept." The same report stated that Israel's Intel factory accounted for some 98% of Israel's exports to Malaysia between 1999 and 2002. Thus in 1999 Israeli exports to Malaysia were worth $107 million – $5.3 million excluding Intel. That year Israeli imports from Malaysia were worth $23.6 million. In 2000 Israeli exports to Malaysia were worth $732 million—$4.7 million excluding Intel. Israeli imports from Malaysia were worth $25.9 million. In 2001 Israeli exports to Malaysia were worth $615.5 million—$4.7 million excluding Intel. Israeli exports from Malaysia were worth $26.3 million.[9]

Figures released by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics showed that trade between Israel and Malaysia in 2008–2011 fluctuated considerably. In 2008, Israeli exports to Malaysia came to $30.2 million while Israel imported goods worth $100.6 million. In 2009, Israel exported $116.8 million worth of goods to Malaysia and imported goods worth $68.5 million. In 2010, Israel's exports to Malaysia grew to $798 million and imports grew to $85 million. 2011 saw Israel export goods to Malaysia worth $716.4 million and import goods worth $93.6 million.[10] A report compiled by the European Commission indicated that in 2010 Malaysia ranked 15th among Israel's major trade partners, accounting for 0.8% (667.6 million) of Israel's trade in that year.[11] For Malaysia, trade with Israel is included in "Other countries" section.[12]


In March 1997, Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad allowed Israel cricket team to play in International Cricket Council tournament in Malaysia. This is the first official visit of Israeli sports delegation to Malaysia, which does not have any diplomatic ties with Malaysia. The entry of had sparked street demonstrations in Malaysia.[13][14]

In 2010, Israeli boxer Ilya Grad received special permission from the country's Muslim authorities to participate in a national TV reality show on boxing. Grad is a former Israeli Muay Thai champion, the 2010 Asia champion and the second runner-up in the world championship. Grad was allowed to enter the country and received a special visa.[15]

On 26 December 2015, the Malaysian government refused to issue visas to two Israeli windsurfers and their coach to compete at the Youth Sailing World Championships in Langkawi in early 2016; citing its policy of not having diplomatic relations with Israel. This action was criticised by both the Israel Sailing Association and the World Sailing body.[16][17] On 2 January 2016, it was reported that the Malaysian government had also declined to issue visas to the Israeli table tennis team due to compete at the World Table Tennis Championships held at Kuala Lumpur in February 2016.[18] The world governing body for the sport of sailing (created in Paris in 1906), ISAF Sailing World Championships executive decided that "all competitors from all countries" will be able to compete freely and equitably otherwise there will be prohibitions held against countries which do not allow eligible participants to compete equally.[19]

In early January 2019, the Malaysian government barred the Israeli Paralympics swimming team from participating in the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships scheduled to be held in Kuching between 29 August and 4 August.[20] On 14 January, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed reaffirmed the Malaysian government's decision to deny the Israeli team visas, citing the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries and the ban on Israeli passport holders from entering Malaysia.[21][22] On 27 January 2019, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) stripped Malaysia of the right to host the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships. Andrew Parsons of the IPC justified the body's decision on the grounds "politics and sports are never a good mix."[23][24]


Officially, the Malaysian government allows Christians to visit Israel for religious purposes. In 2009, the government imposed a ban on visits to Israel, ostensibly due to heightened security risks posed by the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.[25] The ban was lifted in 2011, albeit with restrictions such as a quota of 700 pilgrims per year with not more than 40 pilgrims per church group, and pilgrims must be at least 18 years old and not visiting Israel more than once every three years with each stay a maximum of 10 days.[26] In October 2012, the Malaysian government lifted the quota on pilgrimage tourism to Israel and allowed stays to be extended from 10 to 21 days.[27]

Public opinion[edit]

Since 2014, Malaysian Non-governmental organisation (NGOs) such as Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Malaysia, AMAN Palestine, Aqsa Syarif, Persatuan Pengguna Islam Malaysia and Viva Palestina Malaysia called for boycott of Israel-linked companies and Israeli products when Gaza–Israel conflict heightens. On 2 August 2014, "Save the Children of Gaza" was held by Viva Palestina Malaysia and Aqsa Syariff where 15,000 supporters gathered to show solidarity towards the Gaza people. Among the products boycotted include: Victoria's Secret, Starbucks, McDonald's, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Kotex, and Marks and Spencer. A study conducted in 2017 showed that Muslim counterparts is more likely to join the boycott effort when compared to non-Muslims. However, there are some of them who expressed doubt on the effectiveness of boycott in hampering Israel's economy. The boycott movements also lacks organisation.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wong Chun Wai (6 July 2013). "The Jewish community in Penang is all but gone leaving only tombs behind". The Star. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  2. ^ Yegar, Moshe (Fall 2006). "Malaysia: Anti-Semitism without Jews". Jewish Political Studies Review. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. 18 (3–4). Retrieved 5 March 2012.
  3. ^ Nair, Shanty (1997). "Chapter 7: Malaysia and the Palestinian issue in the 1990s". Islam in Malaysian Foreign Policy. London: Routledge. p. 252. ISBN 0-203-42538-3. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
  4. ^ a b Von der Mehden, Fred R. (1993). "Chapter 3: Political interaction". Two Worlds of Islam: Interaction Between Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1208-2. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
  5. ^ "DPM: Release of letters proves our stand on Israel". The Star. 2 March 2012. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
  6. ^ Michael, Bachner (12 February 2018). "In first, Israeli diplomats attend UN conference in Malaysia". Times of Israel. Archived from the original on 14 February 2018. Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  7. ^ Herb, Keinon (13 February 2018). "First Israeli diplomat to visit Malaysia in 53 years: Country tough to crack". The Jerusalem Post. Archived from the original on 5 December 2018. Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  8. ^ "Quick Facts & Figures: Malaysia & Israel-Malaysia Relations". Israel–Asia Center. Retrieved 16 March 2012.
  9. ^ Gonen, Ehud. "Israel Trade With Indonesia And Malaysia" (in Hebrew). Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor (Israel). Archived from the original on 25 March 2012. Retrieved 16 March 2012. נציגים רשמיים משתי המדינות אמרו לנו מספר פעמים כי אין התנגדות לסחר ולקשרים עסקיים כל עוד אלו נעשים בפרופיל נמוך.
  10. ^ "Table D 1.–Trade Countries–Imports and Exports". Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. 2012. Retrieved 15 March 2012.
  11. ^ "Israel's Trade With Main Partners (2010)". European Commission. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
  12. ^ Jacob, Atkins (14 September 2014). "Malaysia favors Palestinians but buys from Israel". The Times of Israel. Archived from the original on 2 July 2018. Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  13. ^ "Israeli cricketers ignore Malaysian riots". United Press International. 4 April 1997. Archived from the original on 10 February 2019. Retrieved 10 February 2019.
  14. ^ "Cricket: Israel fail first test". The Independent (UK). 25 March 1997. Archived from the original on 10 February 2019. Retrieved 10 February 2019.
  15. ^ Itamar Eichner (26 October 2011). "Israeli boxer a reality star in Malaysia". Ynetnews. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
  16. ^ "World Sailing to Probe Israeli Visa Refusal in Malaysia". Associated Press. ABC News. Archived from the original on 28 December 2015. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  17. ^ "Israeli windsurfers no-show at Langkawi event after Putrajaya denies duo visas". Malaysian Insider. 26 December 2015. Archived from the original on 28 December 2015. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  18. ^ Allon Sinai (2 January 2016). "Malaysia holding back visas from Israeli table tennis team". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  19. ^ "World Sailing Statement: World Sailing's Executive Committee met today, Friday 8th January 2016, to urgently consider the recent unacceptable events at the just concluded Youth World Sailing Championship in Langkawi, Malaysia". World Sailing. 8 January 2016. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  20. ^ Aharoni, Oren (6 January 2019). "Malaysia denies entry to Israeli swimmers for world championship". Ynetnews. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  21. ^ Oster, Marcy (14 January 2019). "Malaysia Won't Let Israeli Paralympic Swimmers Enter Country for Olympic Qualifier". Haaretz. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  22. ^ "International Paralympic Committee says upset with Malaysia's ban on Israeli swimmers". Malay Mail. 14 January 2019. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  23. ^ "IPC strip Malaysia of 2019 World Para Swimming Championships". International Paralympic Committee. 27 January 2019. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  24. ^ "World Para Swimming Championships: Malaysia stripped of hosting 2019 event". BBC Sport. 27 January 2019. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  25. ^ "Christians upset by Putrajaya curbs on Jerusalem pilgrimage" Archived 16 July 2014 at the Wayback Machine, The Malaysian Insider, 6 July 2012
  26. ^ "Government relaxes Israel travel ban", The Star, 20 December 2013
  27. ^ S Puvaneswary (23 January 2013). "Malaysia relaxes rules on Israel tours". ASEAN Tourism Forum. TTG Asia. Archived from the original on 28 January 2013. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
  28. ^ Hanizah, Hamzah; Hasrina, Mustafa (25 July 2018). "Exploring consumer boycott intelligence towards Israel related companies in Malaysia: An integration of the theory of planned behaviour with transtheoretical stages of change". Journal of Islamic Marketing. doi:10.1108/JIMA-06-2017-0070.

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