Moon Over Malaysia

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I’m headed to the BIO conference in a few weeks. It’s in Chicago this year, a city that I haven’t seen much of. I had a parenteral drug conference there in the spring of 2000, and enjoyed the environs and architecture. I’m hoping for a little more time to get out and explore this time. This trip will unfortunately be contrasted by another conference two weeks later in Anaheim.

The BIO conference is dominated by regional economic development councils, which are intent on bringing biotech companies and their manufacturing facilities into their areas. These EDCs have a lot of incentives to offer and different ways of enticing companies to set up shop. I wrote all about it in the April issue of my magazine; I’ll post a link to that piece when it’s available, in case you’re interested in the stuff I spend my days working on.

A lot of these EDCs want trade magazine editors to visit during BIO, so they can explain to us what their region has to offer. Sometimes this evolves into a trip to that region; that’s how my Sweden/Denmark trip in August 2004 happened. I’ve been to a few other sites as part of this process: Puerto Rico, Spokane, WA, Phoenix/Scottsdale, and probably some others that I’m forgetting. Generally, I’m too busy to travel on some many junkets, so I make the rounds at BIO and learn what I can about the regions.

Which leads me to the invite I received from a PR firm by e-mail today. They’d like me to sit down for an interview with the CEO of the Malaysian Biotechnology Corp., the government agency devoted to building a biotech industry in that country. It was a pretty gracious invite, and it’s flattering that the firm considers my magazine worth the interview-time.

But I looked at the invite for a few moments, thinking, “Malaysia . . . Malaysia . . . Oh, that’s right! They won’t let you into the country if you have an Israeli passport!”

I spent a few minutes researching to make sure that was the case (which led me to the previous Prime Minister’s anti-semitic comments from 2003). Yup! Malaysia doesn’t recognize Israel’s existence (but does recognize Palestine’s: whew!).

I was prepared to write off the invite then and there, but it occurred to me that Israel might have the exact same policy. You never know. I’d hate to be more of a hypocrite than I already am.

I ended up having to call the Israeli consulate to clear up the issue: Malaysians aren’t treated differently than any other nationality coming to visit Israel; they just need a visa like anyone else. I told the young lady on the phone about Malaysia’s policy. She said, “Ooh. That’s not nice.” We agreed that my mother wouldn’t be happy about it, either.

After that, I struggled to write the e-mail to the PR rep. I didn’t want to take on an adversarial tone, or imply that she was morally compromised by helping represent Malaysia. But I did want to express my point of view about what I wouldn’t meet with them. I went with

I know this is going to sound terrible, but I can’t in good conscience discuss the attractions of a biotech base in a country that would turn away most of my family at the border because of the passports they carry.

As near as I can tell, Malaysia has a blanket ban on entry by Israeli nationals (with case-by-case exceptions), and I’m afraid that I can’t publicize/promote a country with that policy.

If I have my facts wrong, please let me know ASAP.


Gil Roth

Now there’s only a problem if the MBC decides to start advertising. Still, it wouldn’t be as bad as taking an 8-page ad insert from Sudan, like the NYTimes did. I was hoping it would open with the banner: “Sudan: More than Genocide and Civil Wars!”

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6 Replies to “Moon Over Malaysia”

  1. ” ….. She said, “Ooh. That’s not nice.” We agreed that my mother wouldn’t be happy about it, either…..”

    Damn right, your mother wouldn’t be happy about it!!!!.

  2. Not cool…Just goes to show how important it is to check out the travel advisories before you leave. A lot of Islamic countries (and others, like Fiji!)have laws against being gay. Admittedly, this won’t stop you getting in, but it can be a bit of a problem once you arrive…
    Then there’s countries that reserve the right to refuse you admittance if you declare you have HIV. Where was that again? Oh, yeah, the US.

  3. This reminds me of a story someone told me when they worked at the British embassy in Belgrade. Apparently there was an Iranian embassy/consulate in the city. According to events at the time that should surely have been the last place on earth for one. Weird! So I never understand how official these so-called policies are.

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