PUTRAJAYA - Prime Minister Najib Razak on Friday (Dec 22) led a rally to protest US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, the third such rally in three weeks in Malaysia.
Datuk Seri Najib told the rally: "Yes, I was welcomed into the White House. Yes, I know Mr Trump. But based on principles, I will never forfeit my Islamic beliefs". PM Najib met Mr Trump in September.
“We will do whatever it takes. Whatever we can so that one day the land of Jerusalem belongs to Palestinians and Muslims," Mr Najib added. "We don’t want a shrinking Palestine. We want a sovereign and dignified Palestine".
Opposition politician Abdul Hadi Awang, president of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), who was supposed to star in the rally with the Prime Minister, did not turn up. His eldest son Khalil Abdul Hadi, chief of the PAS Youth wing, took his place.
The gathering was to mark the second time PM Najib and Datuk Seri Hadi were to share the same stage at a political rally, in what would be a show of Malay Muslim unity ahead of the general election. A large banner that formed the backdrop of the stage carried images of the two men together, with the words in Malay 'Solidarity to save Jerusalem'.
The crowd was estimated at 1,000 - far fewer than the 10,000 expected by the organisers. The rally was held after Friday prayers in Malaysia's administrative capital Putrajaya.
PM Najib and Mr Hadi had sparked speculation of closer ties between their parties, Umno and PAS, when they shared a stage in December last year to protest the plight of Myanmar's Muslim Rohingya.
Despite Mr Hadi's absence, political observers do not see it as a strain of ties between Mr Najib’s party Umno and PAS.
Oh Ei Sun, principal adviser to Pacific Research Centre said the no-show by top leaders of PAS doesn’t affect the perception of the party to its supporters. “Those voters they are targeting are voting for race and religion, not a particular personality anyway,” Mr Oh said.
Former prime minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad made a surprise appearance at Putra Mosque where the rally was held. Dr Mahathir is now an opposition leader.
The Youth wing chief of Dr Mahathir's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman, said the elder statesman made a last minute decision to come to the rally's site. Mr Syed Saddiq said Dr Mahathir wanted to show support for the Palestinian cause, regardless of his political differences with Mr Najib, The Star newspaper reported.
Mr Najib talked up Malaysia’s importance on the world stage at the rally on Friday, not cowed by other countries including superpowers, such as the U.S.
“We never asked for loans from the US. On the other hand, the US asked from us. They asked us to buy their planes,” said Mr Najib. “This means that Malaysia has developed to become a model to other nations”.
The gathering was also attended by non-Muslims, namely the Association of NexGen Christians of Malaysia. The Christian group said in its statement that: “Claiming Jerusalem as the capital for one people not only damages hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but deepens religious tensions among Muslims, Jews, and Christians”.
At the emergency special session of the UN General Assembly on Thursday, Malaysia joined the ranks of the international community in rejecting the decision by the US to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The assembly adopted by a decisive vote of 128 to nine, with 35 abstentions, a motion rejecting the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
According to The Star, Malaysia's permanent representative to the United Nations, Mohd Shahrul Ikram Yaakob, affirmed the country's support for a peaceful two-state solution, adding that Malaysia was concerned the US decision will feed into the agenda of extremists.
Kuala Lumpur saw its first protest against the US decision on Dec 8, when over 1,000 demonstrators from ruling party United Malays National Organisation (Umno) and PAS converged outside the US embassy, bringing traffic to a standstill.
Opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan organised its rally the following week on Dec 15, attended by former premier Tun Mahathir Mohamad and only about 100 protesters.