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Oscar-winning film, 'Schindler's list', has been banned in Malaysia, leaving the Jewish community in Australia and the United States outraged

ELLEN FANNING: The success of an 11-year-old girl from Wellington has brought her country's parliament to a standstill and, comically enough, ignited national pride on both sides of the Tasman. The world saw a stunned Anna Paquin win the award for best supporting actress for her role in The piano. But that other star of the Oscars, Schindler's list, has received a sour response from one of our other Commonwealth neighbours. Malaysia has banned the holocaust tale. Well, Jewish groups in Australia and the United States are outraged by the move.

We're joined, now, by our correspondent in Kuala Lumpur, Trevor Watson. Trevor, what details do we have of this ban?

TREVOR WATSON: First of all, Ellen, this ban has not been made public. The Malaysian people don't know about it and perhaps they never will. All we do know is that the Malaysian censors have written to the film's distributors, Universal International Pictures, and the distributors have informed Jewish groups in Australia and in the United States and, of course, those Jewish groups are suitably outraged.

ELLEN FANNING: And so what exactly are Malaysia's objections?

TREVOR WATSON: Apparently, the letter said that the film reflected the privilege and the virtues of one race only, and went on to say that the film was propaganda with the purpose of asking for sympathy - that is, sympathy for one race - while tarnishing the image of another race. Now, we don't know which other race it's referring to but, presumably, it's talking about Germans.

ELLEN FANNING: Well, we know that Malaysia is predominantly a Muslim country. Now, has that fact had any impact on the decision to ban Schindler's list?

TREVOR WATSON: Malaysia is a Muslim country but it's not a fundamentalist one. It is staunchly Muslim without being fundamentalist. It's only recently begun to warm toward Israel since the Israeli-PLO Accord. It has long backed the Arab and the PLO cause in the Middle East and so I think it's probably safe to say that, yes, the country's cultural and religious make-up has had a good deal to do with the decision to ban the film. Now, of course, a decision wouldn't be taken like this by the board without it going to a fairly senior level within the Malaysian Government beforehand, particularly given the reception that the film has received around the world.

ELLEN FANNING: Thanks very much, Trevor Watson in Kuala Lumpur.

Well, joining us on the line, now, is Isi Leibler, the President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. And Mr Leibler, what's the reaction from the community here?

ISI LEIBLER: Well, we're outraged, but I think the Malaysians have truly discredited themselves, exposing themselves as primitive races, which is a shame for a country which has been subjected to colonialism and have themselves experienced racial discrimination. They should know better.

ELLEN FANNING: Well, what's the motivation, do you think, for the ban?

ISI LEIBLER: I think that their anti-Israeli posture has led them to a slippery slope where they can't distinguish. I mean, to talk about Nazis as a race, as they do in their letter, is indicative of how strange this is. After all, this Schindler's list is probably the most effective vehicle that there has been to promote the impact of the evils of racism, and for a country like Malaysia to do this and behave in this way, I think, is morally repugnant. It's shameful, and I think they make themselves a laughing stock throughout the world.

ELLEN FANNING: Well, are the censors, though, playing on national prejudices that exist in Malaysia?

ISI LEIBLER: Well, as I said, I don't think they can distinguish, sometimes, between their anti-Israel policies and the slippery slope of going into outright anti-Semitism, and I think that there are Islamic fundamentalist groups that the Government may be playing up to. But the Government, in the past, has done some strange things in this area as in other area s.

ELLEN FANNING: What sort of things have they done in the past?

ISI LEIBLER: Well, they banned an orchestra once before because the orchestra had the title of - one of the things it was playing was Jerusalem. I mean, that's the sort of grotesque thing that we've encountered before in Malaysia.

ELLEN FANNING: Now, the decision was made by the Film and Censorship board. Do you think it's come from the censors or come from the Government?

ISI LEIBLER: My inclination is that they would not be moving in this direction without government support. But we have written to the Malaysian High Commissioner and urged him to convey to his government our views - which I am sure are reflected from many groups all over the world - that they are making pariahs and laughing stocks of themselves, and that they should review this decision.

ELLEN FANNING: Although does the decision have to be looked at in the context that this is a largely Islamic state and perhaps they're looking to their Muslim brothers in the Middle East and are reluctant to allow the portrayal of Jews as victims?

ISI LEIBLER: That could be a factor but the Arab-Israel conflict is in the process of rectifying itself - the peace process is moving forward - and I don't think that this sort of nonsense where we're talking about the genocidal policies of the worst racist in history is something that should simply be pushed aside.

ELLEN FANNING: Now, the National Party Leader, Tim Fischer, has linked Schindler's list and the awards with a recent Israeli attack on southern Lebanon. What do you think of that sort of linkage?

ISI LEIBLER: Look, I don't think that Tim is a conscious racist or a bigot, but to bracket tragic casualties in a border war with the systematic Nazi genocide of the Jewish people is obscene, and in Tim's case, I think, utterly stupid and another example of his mouth running ahead of his brain.

ELLEN FANNING: Well, isn't it unavoidable, though, that the holocaust - in these two instances, it seems - is going to be linked to the activities of the modern Jewish state?

ISI LEIBLER: Well, I think if it is going to be linked, I think it should be linked, because there is a direct link between the holocaust and the existence of the Jewish state. The existence of a Jewish state is, I think, very much predicated on the basis that there should not be another holocaust.

ELLEN FANNING: What would be motivating Tim Fischer to make that linkage, then?

ISI LEIBLER: I think Tim Fischer, in a well-meaning manner, is attempting to promote the views of his Lebanese friends, and I think he's just got it all wrong.

ELLEN FANNING: Mr Leibler, thank you.

Isi Leibler, the President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.