Why Malaysian Chinese are wary, staying out from showing solidarity for the Palestinian cause

THE Solidarity with Palestine movement in Malaysia has been very loud and visible with boycotts and rallies proclaiming support for citizens of war-torn Gaza in the on-going Israel-Hamas conflict.

However, it has also caused fissures within the multi-ethnic communities of Malaysia. The movement is one that resonates deeply within the Malay Muslim community.

Even then, there has been grumblings that there has been undue pressure – especially on social media – for all Malay Muslims to conform to the narrative with open displays of “support”.

Be it by simply wearing of the now ultra-chic Palestinian keffeyieh (scarf) or boycotting brands with alleged ties to Israel, there simply isn’t much of a choice for many Malay Muslims in the matter.

Staying silent is almost tantamount to being a Zionist as some social media influencers have found out to their cost as Malay Muslim netizens ‘unfollowed’ them by the thousands.

A peace loving, practical lot?

But to other minority communities, especially the sizeable and economically powerful Chinese, many are decidedly uncomfortable with the on-going narrative. This was best exemplified by the opposition of many parents during recent Education Ministry -sanctioned ‘Solidarity with Palestine’ week of school activities.

PERSONAL CHOICE: Perlis MCA Kangar division secretary Ng Sing Phing (right) is a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause

Many parents had voiced their concerns over the antics of some educators in promoting a Jihadist worldview while condemning the acts of some educators who got students to take up arms or even to denigrate/burn the Israeli flag.

It was reported that some parents in Chinese vernacular schools even threatened not sending their children to school during the corresponding period.

Why is that so? What is the cause of their discomfort?

One popular view is that Malaysian Chinese are a pragmatic bunch, unwilling to get dragged into messy political affairs, especially in the international arena which is totally irrelevant to them. After all, their primary concern is having a stable environment where business can thrive and they can earn an honest living, so to speak.

An interesting view was postulated by netizen Terry Lee on Quora – albeit a few years back – is seemingly relevant to this on-going discussion. He explained why the Chinese diaspora are sometimes called the Jews of the East (or “Singapore is the Israel of Asia”) by drawing a number of comparisons.

He observed that:

  • That is because the Chinese diaspora share much similarities with the Jewish diaspora.
  • Both are known to be prominent minorities retaining their own culture in many countries.
  • Both are often blamed as scapegoats and persecuted for their countries’ problems.
  • Both are known to entrepreneurial in the countries that host them.
  • Both are perceived to be intelligent and hardworking.
  • Both are known to be wealthy people in these countries by controlling much of their economy.
  • Both were the greatest victims of genocide in WW2 (Second World War).

Politicising of Palestinian cause

Although there are major generalisations, there is more than a modicum of truth to his observations. That is not to say that Malaysian Chinese subscribe to any Zionist tendencies but rather perhaps have a different perspective on the matter.

It definitely would be an understatement to say that many local Chinese are deeply uncomfortable with the open displays of rage and hatred at some of these rallies and school events. How easily could the target of this ire be transferred from Zionists to the Chinese?

As mentioned by Terry Lee, there is a perception that the Chinese hold an inordinate amount of economic clout which many politicians have harped upon for decades.

Aligned with the reprehensible pendatang tag and the view that the Chinese are just here to leech off the country’s resources, this has perhaps caused many of them to distance themselves from the Palestinian cause.

Furthermore, there is also the religious element of the local Solidarity with Palestine movement with it strongly skewered towards a ‘Muslim vs Jews’ narrative, ignoring the fact that there are Christian Palestinians affected by the conflict.

This is another facet which has left many deeply uncomfortable with the on-going show of solidarity as it seeks to further compound religious differences, an issue that has been repeatedly used by local politicians as a scare-mongering tactic in their quest to gain political mileage.

See how certain politicians are still peddling the myth of a conspiracy of minorities (ie Chinese) as if they still harbour the ill-intent to plunder the nation’s wealth at the expense of the Malays, staunchly unwilling g to assimilate themselves with the desirable local customs (culturally and religiously) or even aspiring to turn Malaysia into a Christian state.

Pic credit: Malay Mail, March 9, 2023

The uncomfortable truth is that many local Chinese are fearful of being compared to the Zionists in Israel. Many are wondering how easy it would be to replace Israel with the Chinese community in becoming a target of communal hatred.

No less a personage than the Perlis Mufti Datuk Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin had stated his admiration for Adolf Hitler in a posting regarding the current Israel-Hamas conflict. This is dangerous ground and goes some way in explaining the Chinese community’s queasiness.

Many Malaysians would do well to understand that the hesitation of the Chinese community – many are already the fourth or fifth generation descendants of their immigrant Chinese ancestors – to openly support the Palestinian cause does not mean that they side with the Zionists or making them less Malaysian or loyal to their motherland.

But this is rather a reflection of the deep concerns they may have at being similarly labelled as ‘unwelcome neo-colonisers’ and the negative connotations that come with it. – Nov 13, 2023


R. Bala believes that supporting the Palestinian cause in the current Malaysian context is a matter of personal choice, hence transcending the ethnical and religious boundaries.

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