JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel accused Mahathir Mohamad of "radical anti-Semitism" on Thursday after saying his country would not host more sporting events involving rivals in the Jewish state.
Last week, Mahathir said Israeli swimmers could not enter Malaysia – a Muslim-majority country – for a tournament later this year that will serve as a qualifying event for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah insisted on Wednesday that the country "will not receive events" with Israeli participation.
"It's about fighting for the oppressed," he added.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon criticized the "shameful" decision to bar the country's athletes and said the move "is totally opposed to the Olympic spirit."
"Israel condemns the decision inspired, no doubt, by the rabid anti-Semitism of the Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir," he said.
"We call on the International Paralympic Committee to change this wrong decision or change the venue of the event."
Kuala Lumpur has rejected requests from the global sports body to find a solution for the line.
Malaysia is one of several predominantly Muslim states that have no formal diplomatic ties with Israel. Entry into the country on an Israeli passport is prohibited.
The Palestinian cause has widespread support in Malaysia as thousands of people took to the streets in protest when US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017.
Israel occupied the Arab East of Jerusalem in 1967 and then annexed it, declaring the entire city as its "eternal and indivisible capital", but Palestinians claim the eastern part as the capital of their own future state.
Malaysia prevented Israeli athletes from competing in a sporting event before. Two Israeli windsurfers had to leave a competition on the island of Langkawi after being refused in 2015.
Kuala Lumpur also refused to host a FIFA conference in 2017, with the participation of an Israeli delegation.
Mahathir, now 93 and his second season as prime minister, has in the past drawn criticism for his verbal attacks on Jews, including calling them a "hook nose."
The previous government has allowed a high-level Israeli delegation to attend a UN conference in Kuala Lumpur in 2018, sparking public anger.