PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia – Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (search) on Thursday told a summit of Islamic leaders that "Jews rule the world by proxy" and the world's 1.3 billion Muslims should unite, using non-violent means for a "final victory.
His speech at the Organization of the Islamic Conference (search) summit, which he was hosting, drew criticism from Jewish leaders, who warned it could spark more violence against Jews.
Mahathir, who is known for his outspoken, anti-Western rhetoric, criticized what he described as Jewish domination of the world and Muslim nations' inability to adequately respond to it as he opened the meeting of Islamic leaders from 57 nations.
"The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million, but today the Jews rule the world by proxy," Mahathir said. "They get others to fight and die for them."
Malaysia, a democratic nation which has a large non-Muslim population and does not enforce strict Islamic law, has long been a critic of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories and of U.S. policy in the Middle East, including the war in Iraq and its strong backing of the Jewish state.
Mahathir, 77, who is retiring on Oct. 31, has used almost every international podium to lambaste the West for two decades, winning a reputation as an outspoken champion of Third World causes.
"For well over half a century we have fought over Palestine. What have we achieved? Nothing. We are worse off than before," he said. "If we had paused to think, then we could have devised a plan, a strategy that can win us final victory."
The prime minister, who has turned his country into the world's 17th-ranked trading nation during his 22 years in power, said Jews "invented socialism, communism, human rights and democracy" to avoid persecution and gain control of the most powerful countries.
Mahathir added that "1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews," but he suggested using political and economic tactics instead of violence.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled expressed disappointment in the remarks but said he wasn't surprised.
"It is not new that in such forums there is always an attempt to reach of the lowest common denominator which is Israel bashing," he said in Jerusalem. "But obviously we'd like to see more moderate and responsible kind of declarations coming out of such summits."
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (search) in Los Angeles, said Mahathir has used anti-Israel statements in the past to prove he's tough on the West. But, he said, Thursday's speech was still worrisome.
"What is profoundly shocking and worrying is the venue of the speech, the audience and coming in the time we're living in," Cooper said during a visit to Jerusalem. "Mahathir's speech today is an absolute invitation for more hate crimes and terrorism against Jews. That's serious."
U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia Marie Huhtala declined to comment on Mahathir's speech. Washington was angered over a speech he made in February, as host of the Non-Aligned Movement of 117 countries, in which he described the looming war against Iraq as racist.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he supported Mahathir's analysis, which also included steps for how Muslim nations can develop economically and socially.
"It is great to hear Prime Minister Mahathir speak so eloquently on the problems of the ummah (Muslim world) and ways to remedy them," Karzai said. "His speech was an eye-opener to a lot of us and that is what the Islamic world should do."
The summit is the first since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks reshaped global politics and comes at a time when many Muslims -- even U.S. allies -- feel the war on terrorism has become a war against them.
"It is well known that the Islamic community is being targeted today more than at any other time before in its creed, culture and social and political orientation," said Qatar's ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who hosted the U.S. headquarters in the Iraq war.
The status of Iraq also proved a divisive issue. Malaysia resisted inviting the U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council, describing it as a puppet of American occupation. But Arab countries that have recognized the interim body prevailed and council representatives were attending the summit.
Leaders attending the summit included Jordan's King Abullah, Syrian President Bashar Assad, Morocco's King Mohammed VI, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo are attending as special observers because of their large Muslim minorities.