Sometime in 2009, while touring the aisles at my local Kuala Lumpur supermarket, I came across an incongruous item: metal nut-crackers, encased in fetching blue packages bearing Hebrew inscriptions.
Loosely deciphering several references including “Tel Aviv,” I jovially interrogated my bemused cashier about the origin of the stock, in the process apprising her of its country of manufacture.
It was the first time I had seen Israeli products stocked in Malaysia, and it was also to be my last: returning to the store two weeks later, I found that the Israeli nut-crackers had been replaced with harmless Japanese can-openers.
My experience was a practical lesson in the blurry enterprise that is Malaysia-Israel trade. Malaysia and Israel do not share political relations, and since 1965, bilateral trade has been indirectly channeled through third markets in a largely discreet process that is consistently disavowed by the Malaysian government. A legacy of popular anti-Israelism and staunch pro-Palestinian sentiment further complicates the picture.
Hence why Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir Mohamed took a slightly harsher lesson in January this year when he accused opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim of surreptitiously disseminating Mossad-supplied data on Malaysia-Israel trade during the former’s tenure. Instead, Mahathir was widely seen as affirming past trade with Israel, and was thus rebuked by conservative Muslim Malaysians for having countenanced such trade…Read More>>