Israeli officials attended UN conference in Malaysia last week - reports

A 'UN-Habitat for a better urban future' poster at the 9th World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Feb 7, 2018.
A 'UN-Habitat for a better urban future' poster at the 9th World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Feb 7, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TEL AVIV - Officials from Israel including a former Cabinet minister and a former deputy ambassador attended a conference in Kuala Lumpur last week and met up with Malaysian officials, Tel Aviv's foreign ministry told Israeli media.

The Israeli officials used their Israel passports to enter Malaysia to attend the week-long World Urban Forum (WUF 9) in Kuala Lumpur that started on Feb 7, according to a report in the Times of Israel news site on Monday (Feb 12).

The conference was hosted by the United Nations Human Settlements Program, known as UN-Habitat.

Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country with no diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv, and is a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause.

"Malaysia was compelled to host the Israelis, since it was required to grant visas to all delegations in order to hold the international conference", the report quoted Israel's Hadashot TV as saying.

The Israeli delegation, described by Times of Israel in a " first-of-its-kind visit", was headed by David Roet, who has served as Israel's deputy ambassador to the UN.

The report in Hadashot TV said other delegation members included a former Cabinet minister Ofir Pines and other senior Foreign Ministry officials.

Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon was quoted as saying that Mr Roet "entered Malaysia with an Israeli diplomatic passport, participated in the conference with other Israeli representatives and also met Malaysian officials".

The news site noted that while Israel and Malaysia have no diplomatic relations, official data published in 2014 by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics showed a "booming, but very discreet" trade relationship totaling some US$1.5 billion (S$2 billion) per year.

Mr Roet posted a series of tweets with photos from the visit, and expressed hope that relations between the countries improve in the future.

"Proud to have led Israel's official delegation to the UN's international WUF 9 meeting in Kuala Lumpur," he wrote on Twitter.

He called it a "unique experience for an Israeli diplomat to visit Malaysia."

He added: "I have great hopes for good relations between our two countries in the future."

He said he found "many similarities between Israelis and Malaysians. A Multifaceted society of people from different backgrounds working together for a better future."

He also wrote that the Israeli-developed app Waze is popular in Malaysia. "It's a global phenomenon. Taxi drivers in Malaysia use Waze to get around Kuala Lumpur's traffic."

In 2015, Malaysia raised sporting controversy after it refused the entry of two Israeli windsurfers to compete in the Youth Sailing World Championships in Langkawi island.

Malaysia in 1997 allowed the Israeli cricket's team to participate in the International Cricket Council Trophy in Kuala Lumpur.

Then-Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said then that Kuala Lumpur agreed to let Israel play to show that people of different races and religions could live in harmonywithout bloody conflict. A Malaysian cricket official had said at that time that allowing Israel's participation was a condition for the international tournament to be held in the country.

But the match involving the Israelis was abandoned after being disrupted by protesters.