Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Time to face the Israel question
All publicity is good says an old adage among press agents. That adage is being put severely to the test in the matter of the federal government's publicity consultants Apco Worldwide.
At last count, six institutions and seven members of the ruling establishment have become embroiled in a fast-escalating row that threw up questions of national security and Israeli influence. It is a row that has now gone up to the very top – to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
Yet it had seemed innocent enough when Anwar Ibrahim questioned Apco's role in the 1Malaysia campaign of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, and linked it to Apco's relationship with Israel. Inevitably the Z word and the J word came into play.
At first glance Anwar's question was just a political stunt to repay Barisan Nasional administration leaders in the same coin, for having been tarred by them over many years with the taunt of being an agent of Jews and Jewish interests. It looked like payback time.
But there are more serious questions to answer – about Apco's relations with Israeli intelligence, Israeli links to the federal police through a Singapore company, and the implications these have on national security. Answers have been few.
One answer given shows that Apco's deal with the government, at RM77 million, will cost the taxpayer at least three times more than was originally believed.
As the prime minister basks in the Washington spring sunshine and the warm limelight of an association with the world's favourite US president, the taxpayer will wonder exactly what – and who – that RM77 million has bought on their behalf.
Memories will be stirred of another Malaysian PM, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, another US president, George W Bush, and another lobbyist from K Street, Jack Abramoff, now serving a five-year jail term for fraud and corruption offences.
It must be said those offences had nothing to do, as far as we know, with the US$1.2 million fee that Mahathir later said Abramoff was paid for arranging his meeting with Bush in 2002. That meeting helped to raise Mahathir's profile after being severely criticised by the previous Clinton administration – for anti-Semiticism, and for Anwar's jailing.
That Anwar is again at the centre is not surprising. Neither is the government's response about Apco and the Israelis. (In typical shoot-the-messenger style, it is Anwar that is to be investigated by four government agencies, including the National Security Council.)
But the fundamental questions go unanswered.
Did the Home Minister at the time receive a briefing from senior police officers about Israeli links to a billion-ringgit computerisation project at Bukit Aman? (The pathetic partial response, that he couldn't really remember, is no answer.)
Do Apco the worldwide publicity agents and lobbyists have Israeli links, and do these pose any danger to Malaysian security? Do Apco have any relationship to APCO P25 the computerised police response system, or is this in truth just a coincidence of names? Do the companies involved in APCO P25 have Israeli links, and are these a threat to national security?
Did the Inspector-General of Police have any links to the companies associated with this project? How were the companies chosen? Were thorough background checks carried out? How were they given security clearance?
Were the Israelis associated with the Singapore end given access to Bukit Aman? Do the Singapore partners have any continuing association with the Israelis?
Is Israel an enemy? Is there a security threat in dealing with Israeli people?
Does Anwar Ibrahim have genuine copies of official documents? Are those images genuinely of official documents posted by Raja Petra Kamarudin? Will the government explain the damaging revelations contained in them?
Fanciful notions of Mossad or Shin Bet having penetrated Bukit Aman are not the point. It would beggar belief to accept that Shin Bet was openly allowed into Bukit Aman under only the flimsy pretext of being software installers. But if they did, we are entitled to ask why – not because they are Israeli or Jewish or Shin Bet – and to know how secure is the headquarters of our internal security organisation.
These matters are what relate to Malaysia's national security, not Anwar's antics, nor his access to information, nor the religious faith of certain Middle Easterners.
Rising above the noisy hubbub of Apco, Zionism, and Jewishness – and recognising that these are essentially red herrings – there remains the larger question about Israel that Malaysia cannot avoid.
Is Malaysia to be the last holdout in Asia, when five of Israel's Arab neighbours have already established ties, and many in the Gulf carry on private lucrative trade with putative enemies?
As Najib and his delegation enjoy cherry blossom time in the one western capital that could loosely be called Tel Aviv West, it is a pertinent time to pose this question.
It is not the Jewish question. That one is merely for schoolyard taunting. It is the Israel question that must be answered, and a mature Malaysia to answer it. With chutzpah, even.