(JTA) — The prime minister of Malaysia defended his past anti-Semitic statements and questioned the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust in a speech at Columbia University.

“I am exercising my right to free speech. Why is it that I can’t say something against the Jews, when a lot of people say nasty things about me, about Malaysia, and I didn’t protest, I didn’t demonstrate?” Mahathir Mohamad said in response to a question from an audience member.

Mohamad, who was speaking at the college’s World Leaders Forum, has called Jews “hook-nosed,” said they “rule the world by proxy” and questioned the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust. He also has said that he is “glad to be labeled anti-Semitic.”

In response to a question by a student who identified herself as a member of a campus pro-Israel group, Mohamad denied questioning how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust, but then went on to do so.

At that point, the questioner interrupted him, saying her grandmother had been in the Holocaust. Mohamad declined to speak further about the topic.

The prime minister spoke for about 25 minutes about multilateralism and relations between Malaysia and its neighbors with moderator Lien-Hang Nguyen, an associate history professor at the university. Nguyen did not bring up Mohamad’s anti-Semitic statements.

About 300 people attended the event, according to university spokeswoman Caroline Adelman.

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