All you need to know about the APCO fuss
1 Following the Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim’s (pic) revelations about the UMNO/BN Government’s use of APCO Worldwide public relations/lobbyists’ firm and the concept of 1Malaysia and 1Israel, UMNO has reacted with harsh, ruthless and brutal responses even by UMNO’s standards. They are going to refer the Opposition Leader to the rights and privileges committee to suspend Anwar from Parliament on April 22, 2010. On April 7, 2010, the Kuala Krau Member of Parliament, Y.B. Dato’ Haji Ismail bin Haji Mohamed Said proposed a similar motion to suspend Y.B. Dato’ Haji Mahfuz bin Haji Omar, the Member of Parliament for Pokok Sena for saying “UMNO APCO”. The BN MPs use of their majority in numbers to approve the motion even though there is nothing misleading or unparliamentary in the 2 words, shows that even BN MPs acknowledge APCO has become a bad word.
2 Those who are familiar with the issues relating to Malaysia’s avowed opposition to the Zionists regime in Israel, understand the UMNO MPs desire to disassociate themselves with a public relations firm with Zionists links. However, there are many Malaysians who are not familiar with these issues or do not see what is the fuss about APCO or if 1Malaysia is linked to 1Israel or Washington lobbyists.
3 I write this article to assist Malaysians not familiar with these issues to enable them to make sense of the debate that is ongoing in the Parliament and to see the significance of the present visit by the Prime Minister, Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak to the US and his meeting with the US President Barack Obama in the light of Washington lobbyists’ capabilities and objectives.
4 I shall try to explain: (1) why the appointment of APCO warrants genuine concern for national security; (2) the subtle relationship between Ketuanan Melayu, Neo-conservatism and Zionism; (3) how BN/UMNO is using 1Malaysia to package their autocracy and to cover up the reluctance to implement structural and institutional reforms; and (4) the role of Washington lobbyists to promote US backed dictators.
5 APCO Worldwide is based in Washington DC and has 23 offices all over the world including Tel Aviv. It is common knowledge that many of its key personalities and advisers are associated with Zionist Israel, e.g. Shimon Shein (former Israeli Ambassador to Germany), Itamar Rabinovich (former Israeli Ambassador to the US), Doron Bergerbest-Eilon, former security chief for the Israeli Government and Elliot Abrams, the former Deputy National Security Advisor in the George W. Bush Administration.
6 An example of the Neo-Conservative Zionists’ policies is the opposition to the proposed land for peace deal for Israel to make territorial concessions to the Palestinians as part of the Oslo Accords. (September 1993). Itamar Rabinovich was a participant or observer in events such as the July 1993 Meeting of Right-Wing American-Israeli lobbying organization opposing the Oslo Accords.
7 During the first Knesset debate on the Oslo peace accords (see September 13, 1993), Likud party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of US neoconservatives and Christian fundamentalists, compares the accords to British attempts to appease Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler before World War II. Referring to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, he shouts at Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, “You are worse than Chamberlain.” Netanyahu is so aggressive in part because he has the public and private support of influential US neoconservatives and Christian fundamentalists. “I was ambassador [to the US] for four years of the peace process, and the Christian fundamentalists were vehemently opposed to the peace process,” Israeli ambassador Itamar Rabinovich will recall (see July 1993). “They believed that the land belonged to Israel as a matter of divine right. So they immediately became part of a campaign by the Israeli right to undermine the peace process.” Netanyahu’s outburst on the floor of the Knesset was a deliberate part of that strategy.
8 APCO’s operators in Tel Aviv have close links to the Zionist regime. Its CEO in Israel, Gad Ben-Ari (left), was a personal adviser of the late PM Yishak Rabin. APCO in Israel undertakes various communications and strategic development works for both corporate and governmental organisations. One of the members of APCO’s International Advisory Council is Doron Bergerbest-Eilon, who was a former security chief for the Israeli government. The Israeli military and intelligence agencies have links to agencies that are not in line with Malaysia’s domestic and foreign policies. One of them is the position adopted by Singapore with regard to its defence.
9 Singapore considers itself to be in a similar situation as that faced by Taiwan and Israel. It considers itself as a small nation surrounded by larger neighbouring nations that could be potential enemies of the city state. It is an open secret that Israeli military advisers helped Singapore to set up its defense forces modeled after the Israeli Defense Forces. According to military and strategic analysts such as Tim Huxley in his book in “Defending the Lion City”, Singapore is known to be using a forward-defense military doctrine similar to that employed by Israel. The Singapore Armed Forces (“SAF”) declared mission statement is to “enhance Singapore’s peace and security through deterrence and diplomacy through a relatively quick and cost-effective fashion.” According to Tim Huxley in his book, Singapore’s strategy is that the SAF is to have a clear capability to inflict severe damage on Malaysia (by implication creating serious political and economic repercussion for Singapore) and is a deterrent not to be used. The capability is a deterrent sort of regional “doomsday machine” intended to manipulate Singapore’s regional threat environment by forcing neighboring states to treat the city state with a degree of respect and caution which might otherwise be absent.
10 The point to be noted is that the Israeli military intelligence has a close working relationship with Singapore and countries opposed to the Arab nations seeking a solution to the Palestinian question. Hence, any revelation or knowledge acquired by Israeli military intelligence officers whether retired or not, poses a danger to our nation’s security.
11 In short, the BN government is engaging a company that has a close tie with the Zionist regime in Israel. Its advisory panels consist of former security chief of the Israeli government, and many of their staff are formerly from the Israel Security Agency.
Zionist, Neocon and Ketuanan Melayu
12 Before proceeding further, it is important to differentiate between being Jewish and being the adherents of ideological Zionism.
12.1 Zionism, or more specifically the recent neo-Zionism, is a right-wing, nationalistic and religious movement. They believe that it is impossible for Arabs and Jews to be living together in peace. The only solution to achieve peace is “deterrence and retaliation”. In general, Zionism is no less than an exclusionary, nationalist, even racist, antidemocratic political-cultural trend, striving to heighten the fence encasing Israeli identity.
12.2 On the other hand, the Malay supremacy, or Ketuanan Melayu embraced by UMNO shares many similarities with the Zionism advocated by those in Israel. Ketuanan Melayu believes that the Malays (not including Orang Asli in the Peninsular, I suppose) are the masters of Malaysia. Other ethnic groups in Malaysia are expected to be eternally beholden to the Malays, in particular, UMNO for granting them citizenship in return for special privileges as set out in Article 153 of the Constitution of Malaysia. This deep seated belief has been revealed in the recent statements by the Prime Minister’s aide, Datuk Nasir Safar in saying “Indians came to Malaysia as beggars and Chinese especially the women came to sell their bodies” at a 1Malaysia seminar in Malacca and Datuk Seri Noh Omar, the Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Minister quoting speeches of the 4th MCA President, Tan Siew Sin and 5th MIC President, V.T. Sambanthan from 1960s who praised UMNO and the Malays for granting citizenships to the non-Malays.
13 Ideologies, such as, Ketuanan Melayu and Zionism are not new in this world. The renewed right-wing movements in US also brought a new political philosophy called Neo-conservatism (neocons) which supports using American economic and military power to bring liberalism, democracy, and human rights to other countries. The neocons have substantially influenced George W. Bush to produce the Bush Doctrine of preventive war and eventually led to the invasion of Iraq.
14 Though having dissimilarities among them, all three ideologies are based on ethnocratic fundamentals, reject multi-culturalism, upholding their values as more privilege than others, and trying to implement their beliefs through forceful and assimilation means.
15 The distorted version of New Economic Policy (NEP), The National Culture Policy introduced in 1970 that emphasized an assimilation of the non-Malays into the Malay ethnic group, as well as the contents of the Biro Tatanegara, are all proof of an ethnocratic regime.
Root of the Devil: The Ethnocratic Regime
16 Oren Yiftachel, a Jewish scholar at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, contends that “ethnicity is often constructed as a tool of oppression by ethno-national majorities”, which appropriate “the state apparatus to advance its control over a contested territory and power apparatus”. In the case of Israel, the successive ruling elites since 1948 have been at pains to create an ethnocratic regime at the expense of the Palestinians.
17 An ethnocratic regime possesses the following characteristics:
a. Design for a concerted and collective project of exerting ethnonational control over a territory that is perceived to be the nation’s homeland;
b. Distribution of power and resources based on ethnic affiliation, rather than citizenship.
c. Privileges in the areas of the economy, education and culture are granted to the major ethnic group with a view to securing an absolute control of the state and territory.
18 It is not surprising that under UMNO-BN rule, Malaysia has passed all the tests above. Ironically, despite constant Israel-bashing exercises, Malaysia bears strong resemblance to it.
19 Various attempts made by UMNO to destroy the independence of the judiciary, expand executive powers, and suppress the legislature through gerrymandering and weakening the role of Parliament/state assemblies, are all for the purpose of ethnic dominance.
20 Worse, the social policy and ethnocratic agenda have been abused over the years, benefiting only the upper class, political elites and those who have close relationship to them. This has led to the vicious cycle of corruption, rent seeking and patronage activities.
21 You may argue, it is not UMNO that rules the country, but the BN coalition. Well, it is not a secret that the coalition partners are in government but not in power. UMNO is the dominant partner. The coalition is only used to justify the ethnonational agenda of the UMNO regime.
22 As a result, we see the lack of public debate in policymaking in the past many decades. The ethnocratic regime in Malaysia has seriously distorted our value system in that the public are unable to tell right from wrong. Anything that crosses the racial boundary will be termed as ‘sensitive’. Racial prejudice also precedes the pursuit of democracy, justice and truth.
1Malaysia and many other Ones
23 Many slogans or manifestos of an ethnocratic regime attempts to forge unity and reiterate the importance of building a one-nation state. As it might sound warm and nice, the slogan 1Malaysia is actually a familiar slogan to the various one-nation movements around the world.
24 1Malaysia is definitely not an original idea born in Malaysia. It is also not new to the rest of the world. ‘One Israel’ was the slogan of a failed attempt to forge unity in a fragmented political landscape. Then there was also ‘One Britain’, which had been the theme of notorious UK Conservative politicians and far-right, anti-immigration groups.
25 In Australia, ex-Prime Minister John Howard formulated a ‘One Australia’ policy in 1988. Howard welcomed all those who share his vision and are ready to contribute to the unity of Australian, ironically, detailing a vision of “one nation and one future” which included the rejection of Aboriginal land rights. (KPRU, One Australia, 4 June 2009)
26 In essence, ‘One Australia’ was a reaction against multiculturalism and it insisted that Australia must retain the domination of the Anglo-Saxons.
27 Howards’ ‘One Australia’ theme was later picked up by racist politicians such as Paula Hanson who founded the One Nation Party. This party’s sole platform was based on fiery anti-migrant and anti-foreigner rhetoric and policies.
1Malaysia or Ketuanan Melayu?
28 Here in Malaysia, 1-year after its launching, the concept of ‘1Malaysia’ is still too ambiguous. It is merely a slogan without substance. Many would wonder why the opposition is spending time to scrutinize it as it is just a slogan. There are 2 reasons for this: (1) the 1Malaysia campaign has expended a lot of public money, and (2) the 1Malaysia theme can be misleading or misguiding, especially if ultimately UMNO proceeds to continue its Ketuanan Melayu agenda.
29 How much the 1Malaysia campaign costs? According to a ministerial reply, the government paid RM23 million to APCO. If other 1Malaysia initiative such as 1Malaysia F1, 1Malaysia surveys, 1Malaysia website and others are included, the figure will balloon to several hundreds of million Ringgit.
30 It must be pointed that there is a fundamental obstacle that prevent UMNO’s concept of an inclusive 1Malaysia to be the same as that of Pakatan Rakyat’s Ketuanan Rakyat. Those that harbors the belief that 1Malaysia means equality for all will be disappointed to know that this policy cannot be successfully implemented by UMNO for so long as it remains an ethocentric political party that survives on championing the rights of only one race. UMNO has on numerous occasions threatened other minority ethnic groups not to challenge or question those privileges. It is impossible for UMNO to implement an inclusive 1Malaysia for so long as it remains a racial party championing exclusively one race.
31 Recent incidents remind us of the true face of UMNO:
a. Feb 2010 – ‘Indians came to Malaysia as beggars and Chinese especially the women came to sell their bodies” “Indians in Malaysia have crossed the line. They force the government for 12 subjects in SPM. Don’t force the government. We can anytime revoke the citizenship of the Indians in Malaysia.” The above statements were allegedly said by Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s aide Datuk Nasir Safar at a 1Malaysia seminar titled ‘Rapat 1Malaysia’ in Malacca International Trade Centre.
b. 27 March 2010 – Ibrahim Ali, Chairman of PERKASA and also independent MP, waved the infamous keris again during the PERKASA assembly attended by the former Prime Minister, Tun Mahathir and his son, International Trade and Industry Deputy Minister Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir. The avowed mission of PERKASA is to ensure 1Malaysia and the New Economic Model preserves the special privileges and positions of the Malays.
c. 7 April 2010 – Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Minister Datuk Seri Noh Omar made a remark that Chinese and Indians should be “grateful” for being made Malaysian citizens.
32 The issue relating to APCO is not the price of RM23 million being paid to APCO for the 1Malaysia campaign or whether it originated from 1Israel. The issue is that it is hypocritical of the Najib led UMNO to champion the cause of the Palestinian Arabs while working with a Zionists inclined organisation. The issue is whether 1Malaysia is a public relation exercise to use it as an instrument to perpetuate Ketuanan Melayu. The costs of Ketuanan Melayu to Malaysians are astronomical and incalculable. The policy has bred cronyism, nepotism, corruption, rent-seeking behavior and abuse of power. Barry Wain has estimated that it has costs Malaysians RM100 billion under Mahathir’s regime while Morgan Stanley calculated that it may be more than RM380 billion. Other than certain die-hard UMNO/BN supporters and those who are fed on a diet of BN controlled media, investors both local and foreign are not putting any money into Malaysia unless critical structural reforms are undertaken. Mere reform rhetoric will not be sufficient. There must be reform in substance before we see the economy being revived. Ketuanan Melayu is one of those pillars on which the present economic and political structure is built on and this must be substituted by a paradigm shift for “inclusiveness” in order for the nation to regain its competitiveness. A nationalist inclined organization carrying out public relations exercise will not lead to substantive structural reform.
What US lobbyists do for dictators
33 The other danger to Malaysians in using lobbyists is the US policy of supporting authoritarian regimes. One of APCO’s International Advisory Council Members is Elliott Abrams. He served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy (2005–2009) in the administration of President George W. Bush where he supervised US Policy in the Middle East for the White House. For the 8 years of the Bush II administration, Elliot Abrams was one of the key behind the scenes architect of US strategy in the Middle East. He has been described as a neo-conservative whose devotion to Israel is hard to overstate and who is now engaged in what looks like a public relations campaign to bend Barack Obama’s Middle East Policy in the direction favoured by Israel’s hard line Likud Government. However, unlike many neo-cons, Abrams has been surprisingly frank about his devotion to Israel as a Jewish state. He has even expressed resentment towards Christians who hold nuanced views about Israel or who show sympathy for the Palestinians uprooted from their ancestral homes. In 1997, Abrams published a book entitled, Fear or Faith: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America, which explained his strong commitment to Zionism; chastised Jews who marry Christians; and lashed out at American Christians for what he regards as their insufficient support for Israel.
34 In 1991, Abrams pleaded guilty to misleading Congress in the Iran-Contra scandal. Many democrats have reviled him as the lead apologist for brutal Central American dictatorships in El Salvador and Guatemalan during the 1980s. He’s “the guy who aided and protected human rights abusers” according to David Corn in an article published by the media Nations in 2001. He was later given a pardon by Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush. This gives us an idea as to the ideology and beliefs of APCO’s advisors.
35 Ken Silverstein (pic) of Harper’s magazine in an expose revealed that US lobbyists would be prepared to bolster the image of authoritarian regimes for a fee.
36 The lobbyists are aware of US foreign policies and the thinking of the policymakers and are able to exploit these for the benefit of their clients. It is a central dilemma of contemporary American foreign policy that the world’s leading capitalist democracy must confront an environment in which the majority of nations are neither capitalist nor democratic. US leaders have rarely exhibited ingenuity or grace in handling this delicate and often frustrating situation. Following the end of the Second World War, the break-up of European colonial empires throughout Asia and Africa was generally viewed as an opportunity by the Americans to show that democracy will triumph as a universal system. The actual results were acutely disappointing to the US. No wave of new democracies occurred in the “Third Word”. Instead, the decolonization produced a plethora of dictatorships. Some of which appeared distressingly friendly to Moscow. Washington’s response to this adversity has been particularly, simplistic and unfortunate. American leaders increasingly regarded any anti-communist regime, however, repressive and undemocratic it might be at home, as an “ally” “a force for stability” and even “a friend”. At the same time, they viewed leftist governments, even those elected under democratic procedures as little more than Soviet surrogates. Many will still remember George W. Bush’s speech on the War on Terror. “If you are not with us, you are against us.”
37 As a result of this simplistic and morally inconsistent strategy, America has found itself supporting a host of right wing authoritarian governments:
a. The United States have supported the authoritarian regime of the Shah of Iran by providing lavish military hardware as well as “security and counter insurgency training” to Savak, the Shah’s infamous secret police;
b. The United States have supported the Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos who suspended the national constitution, declared martial law, governed by decree and imprisoned political opponents to perpetuate his own power;
c. Washington gave similar assistance to a succession of Brazilian military governments, a parade of Guatemalan dictatorships, the junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974 and several other repressive governments;
d. Most notably, the United States helped to overthrow the Government of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo and in 1965 came to support the establishment of the dictatorship of Joseph Mobutu;
e. The United States played a role in General Augusto Pinochet 1973 Coup in Chile;
f. In 2007, there was a world outcry over US support for Kazakhstan dictator, President for life Nursultan Nazabayev (pic, left with former US president George Bush), who is a client of APCO. Nazabayez’s Kazakhstan has been rewarded by the United States and the West for his dictatorial moves. The US State Department acknowledges that “Between 1992 and 2005, the United States provided roughly $1.205 billion in technical assistance and investment support in Kazakhstan.” Amnesty International found in September 2008 that “beatings by law enforcement officers, especially in temporary pre-charge detention centres, in the street or during transfer to detention centres, are still routine.” Amnesty International also found “judges rarely exclude evidence elicited as a result of torture or other ill-treatment and often base their verdict on the confession of the accused.” President Nursultan Nazabayev will be getting some much-coveted face time with President Obama in the upcoming April 12-13 summit. Whether as activists hope that Obama would discuss Kazaksthan’s human rights records with Nursultan, it is certain that he would discuss Kazath expansion of a web of road, rail and air links that ferries military supplies to US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. Insiders say that it is not the discussion on human rights reform but the Afghanistan transit roads that got Nazabayev the meeting.
38 Washington lobbyists are able to assist such dictators because they are aware of the power structure and the complex channels of how the US Government works. Ken Silverstein in his expose gave examples of lobbyists assisting dictators such as Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, who had been in power since 1978 after he executed his uncle, and has held several sham elections ever since, to be removed from the lists of the 10 worst dictators in the world. He also gave an example as to how the lobbyists were able to get a team of allegedly independent observers consisting of former members of Congress to issue uplifting statements to sell the sham elections in Cameroon as legitimate.
39 The lobbyists will be able to arrange events highlighting the advantages of the authoritarian government with leading US think tanks, setting out meetings with US government officials, get high level meetings for the regime’s official in Washington, organized editorials and hold events on Capitol Hill or in Washington to promote the regime.
40 It is clear from the above that the lobbyists’ concern is to promote the dictator and his regime and does nothing for the people or to improve their economic or democratic welfare. The APCO contract must therefore be viewed on the basis as to whether it is intended to assist Najib and his government or the Malaysian people. Just as Najib will be getting much-coveted face time with Obama (like the other APCO client, Nursultan Nazarbayev), it is doubtful whether Obama will be discussing with Najib Malaysia’s ISA, human rights’ records and structural reforms. It is certain just as in Nursultan Nazarbayev’s case, Najib and Obama is more likely to discuss how US strategic interests can be furthered by cooperation with Najib’s regime.
41 If Najib is serious in reforming the country, it is important to restore the value systems. The public must be rewarded for integrity, honesty and hard work not for know-who and know-how in lubricating the decision makers. The rule of law, the rewarding of those who are right and punishing those who are wrong irrespective of their positions, their designations or their political interests must be inculcated. The message that right values, that there is the commitment, courage and credibility for the government to act according to what is right and against what is wrong must be made. The government and its agencies must be colour blind and affirmative action has to be provided according to needs and not according to race. This means that an ethnocratic regime has to be replaced by multi-culturalism and Malaysians must learn to embrace and defend justice, democracy and universal values.
42 This includes:
a. Undertaking bold reforms to restore the independence of the police, the anti-corruption commission and the judiciary. Confidence in the rule of law is a basic condition for economic growth;
b. Reform the civil service;
c. Wage all out war on corruption;
d. Institutionalize a two-party system and give proportionate resources to the opposition;
e. Thoroughly revamp our education system;
f. Repeal the Printing Presses Act, the Universities and Colleges Act, the ISA and the OSA, and other repressive laws;
g. Enact a Freedom of Information law.
43 From the report card in the past one year, it seems that Najib is not ready to be the defender of democracy and justice, but more as a defender of the ethnocratic regime. Najib has not shown the commitment and courage to carry out the structural and political reform needed nor has he shown that he is prepared to take on those who are more interested to continue the legacy of an ethnocratic regime.
44 It is clear that no substantial economic and structural reforms have been made since Najib has taken over more than 1 year ago. All we have seen or heard is rhetoric. However, the dangers to Malaysians aspiring for democracy and liberty posed by a public relations firm and Washington lobbyist with neo-conservatives and Zionists links are real and not rhetoric.
45 The UMNO/BN majority in Parliament will suspend Anwar Ibrahim for revealing the APCO links on April 22, 2010. The Opposition Leader’s suspension must not be the end of the matter. Malaysians must answer the clarion call to prevent our march for multi-culturalisms from being derailed by neo-conservatives propaganda. This is what the fuss on APCO is all about.
The writer (left) is the Member of Parliament for Selayang. This article is written in collaboration with KeADILan Parliamentary Research Unit (KPRU).