Indonesian journalists on an AIJAC visit to Israel

November 19, 2015 by Ahron Shapiro
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Indonesia, home to the world’’s largest Muslim population, does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, but that did not stop five respected Indonesian journalists from joining two Thai counterparts on a five-day  fact-finding study visit sponsored by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affair Council’s Rambam Program last month.

Visitors meet Yule Edelstein

Visitors meet Yule Edelstein

The group’’s itinerary included a visit to the Knesset and a discussion with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, meetings with several Israeli journalists and a briefing by Jerusalem Post’’s Palestinian Affairs reporter Khaled Abu-Toameh, a close look at Israel’’s startup business culture, and a security briefing along Israel’’s borders with Lebanon and Syria.

At a time when violence over Jewish visits to the Temple Mount is in the headlines, the group also had an opportunity to observe and accurately record the situation at the holy site itself – a situation, the group agreed, bearing little resemblance to the exaggerated and inflammatory stories of Jewish provocations being circulated by Palestinian sources to news outlets in Indonesia.

Similarly, the group received valuable glimpses into the underreported phenomenon of Palestinian Authority-sponsored media incitement against Jews and Israelis in a briefing by the NGO Palestinian Media Watch.

The Indonesian journalists – who were predominantly Muslim – also appreciated the chance to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque as well as a new mosque in the  Israeli Arab village of Abu Gosh.

The trip was not without suspense or surprises. A visit to inspect the settlements in the Gush Etzion region near Jerusalem turned into an eyewitness report on the aftermath of a terror attack when a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli woman at a shopping centre just a five minutes drive from the group’’s location.

Indonesia and Thailand feature prominently on Israel’’s current Asian foreign interest radar, for different reasons.

Indonesia, as a democracy and a country with a tradition of practicing moderate Islam, may have an important role to play in bridging relations between the Muslim world and Israel and shoring up key support for a peaceful two-state resolution between Israelis and Palestinians.

According to an article published in Ha’aretz earlier this year, about 26,7000 Indonesians visited Israel in 2014 – despite the lack of diplomatic relations between the countries.

Thailand and Israel, which already share good relations, are looking to deepen economic and security ties. Thailand, in particular, is hoping to capitalize on Israel’’s start-up success techniques. At a time when Thailand has seen terrorist activity on the rise, Bangkok is also looking to Israel for ideas on how to better secure their country from terrorism.

AIJAC’’s Executive Director Colin Rubenstein, who accompanied the group for part of their program, said: “the Indonesian and Thai journalists who took part in the program confirmed there is no substitute for visiting Israel and learning about the country firsthand.”

The significance of this unique group’’s visit is not to be underestimated, Rubenstein added, noting that “Knesset Speaker Edelstein’’s lengthy and intensive meeting with the group, as well as the meeting with prominent politician and former foreign minister Tzippi Livni, spoke for itself.”

The Indonesian journalists included Erwin Dariyanto, Managing Editor, Detik.com; ; Muhammad Rusmadi (Rusma), Executive editor, ‘Rakyat Merdeka’; Holdings   both major news organizations  already carrying prominent stories of their visit, who were also  joined by two top representatives from Thailand’’s leading English language newspapers – the Bangkok Post’’s senior reporter Achara Ashayagachat and Supalak Ganjanakhundee, Regional News Editor from The Nation.

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