On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Don’t tear down a noble idea

CONTROVERSY is brewing over whether the 1Malaysia slogan is original. The accusation is that Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s unity slogan is a carbon copy of the “One Israel” concept devised for the Jewish state.

Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has further accused Apco Worldwide, an international public relations company hired by the government, of being behind former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s similar sounding concept.

The company has denied involvement in the Israeli slogan, saying it has a website where its list of clients can be seen.

Most Malaysians would not really get excited by Anwar’s accusation but there is a substantial number who regard any link with Israel, no matter how minor, as unacceptable.

In short, it is a sensitive subject and there certainly are political points to be scored, if given a chance.

It is not even a major controversy in the media but the subject is expected to crop up again in Parliament.

The Barisan Nasional and the Opposition have already clashed over the issue, with Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin saying the 1Malaysia slogan was coined even before Apco was hired.

But let’s take a few steps back and look at the issue from a non-political angle. Seriously, with due respect to the Prime Minister, it is a catchy slogan and one that is easy to remember. But it’s hardly original.

Who’s copying who?

The One Utama shopping centre in Petaling Jaya has been around way before the 1Malaysia concept. In fact, One Utama was launched in 1995 – that’s four years before One Israel (conceived in 1999).

Go on Google and you’ll see there’s a One America group which aims to celebrate African-American heritage and other minority groups that are pushing for recognition of diversity.

There are countless “One America” or “America One” slogans used by groups, companies and non-governmental organisations. They range from marathons to television stations. Certainly, there is no point in accusing anyone of copying anyone there.

In Saudi Arabia, there’s a popular television station called “1 Saudia-Arabia” and certainly no one would make any allegation that the TV station took its name from the “One Israel” concept.

We can be sure that the staff at the television station, which promotes Islamic programmes, would not take kindly to any suggestion of that sort.

Over in China, when one talks about the One China principle, it simply means that any diplomatic relations should be with mainland China and not with Taiwan, which it still regards as one of its provinces.

Regular visitors to China will tell you that “One China” is regularly used in restaurants, and even non-governmental groups use it with some variations.

At risk of being accused by the Indonesians of copying them again, there was a “One Indonesia” campaign launched by an NGO in 2006 after its independence day to celebrate love, unity and change among Indonesians.

Now, let’s get back to the point of One Israel. It was a political alliance formed by Barak, a Labour leader, in the run-up to the 1999 elections. The Labour Party wanted to make the party more centrist.

Well, his idea wasn’t original either. The new term was coined after Tony Blair’s New Labour image. One Israel, as a party, collapsed in 2001 with the party being investigated for receiving foreign funds.

The sensitivity, if not animosity, in Malaysia towards Israel and Jews has long been instituted given our links with the Muslim world.

But the presence of Americans with Jewish roots is something we have to accept and learn to live with. We shouldn’t be hypocritical about this whole issue.

Former World Bank president and US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz is a Jew with strong links to Jewish lobby groups. He is regarded as a neo-conservative and a hawkish advocate against Iraq. He is also a supporter and friend of Anwar and, whether rightly or wrongly, that has also been used against the Opposition Leader.

But the point is that in the US, among the elite and inner circle, the powerful Jews are always there. Even in the Obama Administra­tion, there are at least 17 influential Jews inside the White House, including the powerful Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

Don’t go overboard

There are two issues here that we need to be rational about. As much as politicians want to create controversies, we should not get too carried away and not see the big picture. They shouldn’t throw stones too if they live in glass houses.

If we really want to use the Jewish card, then we should switch off our television every time talkshow host Larry King appears on CNN because he is a Jew. We should stop listening to Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow because they are Jews. Certainly, we must stop watching director Steven Spiel­berg’s wonderful movies.

No one can argue against the concept of 1Malaysia. It has been generally accepted by most Malaysians who want to see it work. There are Malay nationalist groups who question 1Malaysia and there are opposition groups who want answers about Najib’s commitment to 1Malaysia. But for most of us, a noble idea should not be torn down. Let’s make it work.

At day’s end, let’s go for a drink at One Bangsar before we watch the Formula One race this weekend.