A team of Israeli diplomats attended a UN conference in Malaysia last week, the first such visit in 62 years, according to the Jerusalem Post.
The Israeli delegation reportedly met with Malaysian officials despite the countries having no formal diplomatic ties due to the strong pro-Palestinian stance taken by the country. The last visit by an Israeli official took place in 1956, one year before Malaysia attained independence.
Whilst it was reported that Malaysia was reluctant to admit the Israeli delegation, they were obligated by UN rules to allow participating countries to attend the UN Human Settlements Programme – Habitat’s conference.
The visit was headed by David Roet, who has served as Israel’s deputy ambassador to the UN, and compromised of other senior foreign ministry officials. Roet praised the move in a series of tweets, stating that he had found “many similarities” between Israelis and Malaysians and expressing hope that relations between the countries improve in the future.
— David Roet🇮🇱 (@DavidRoet) February 12, 2018
Roet met with senior officials in the country, and though they did not deal directly with Israel-Malaysia relations, he reportedly argued in the meeting that Malaysia’s boycott of Israel did not benefit the Palestinian cause.
He made clear that “Israel does not see Malaysia as an enemy or a hostile country, and that there is no reason the two states don’t have relations,” he confirmed in a statement yesterday.
“I told them that we have relations with a number of countries that don’t agree with us on the conflict with the Palestinians, but with whom we maintain good ties.”
Such public incidents of contact between Israel and Malaysia are rare; in 2015 Malaysia was criticised for preventing two Israelis windsurfers from competing in the Youth Sailing World Championships. In 1997, Israel’s national cricket team was also met by demonstrations from the Islamic Party of Malaysia when it participated in a cricket tournament there.
Yet whilst the countries have no formal diplomatic ties, official data published in 2014 by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics revealed a very discreet, trade relationship totalling some $1.5 billion a year.
The Malaysian public have strongly supported the Palestinian cause and the country witnessed numerous demonstrations last year in protest of US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein also stated at the time that the Malaysian Armed Forces were ready to perform their duty towards the Palestinians and “were waiting for instructions from the top leadership”.
At the time of going to press, the Malaysian High Commission had not responded to MEMO’s requests for comment.