Former Indonesian Vice-President dismisses claims Jerusalem recognition harmed Australia-Indonesia relations

June 2, 2020 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Speaking on an AIJAC webinar, former Indonesian Vice President, and current Chair of the Indonesian Red Crescent, Jusuf Kalla, was dismissive of suggestions Australia’s support for Israel and recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has had any impact on Australia’s relationship with Indonesia.

Asked, “While there were some media reports that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to consider recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital delayed the Australia/Indonesia Economic Partnership agreement, do you think Australia’s close friendship with Israel has any impact on the Australia/Indonesia relationship?” he answered bluntly “Not at all”.

He added that Australia’s politics is an internal issue for Australia, not Indonesia and that he hopes the trade agreement goes well, as he had a lot to do with it when he was in office. He went on to insist that what Australia does politically has had no effect on the agreement.

Mr Kalla was addressing a webinar last week jointly organised by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council and its US partner, the American Jewish Committee (AJC), and addressed a wide range of questions about Indonesia, including its relationship with Israel and the Jewish community.

Earlier, asked why, despite Israel’s warming relations with some Arab countries Indonesia hadn’t formed closer ties with it, he responded that, while there are no diplomatic relationships, people to people ties and business relationships are active, with 100,000 Indonesians going to Jerusalem each year and being treated well. He said that Indonesia supports the Palestinians and a peaceful two-state settlement of the conflict, and if that was achieved, Indonesia would easily establish formal relations with Israel.

He noted that he personally met Benjamin Netanyahu in New York last year, and said, as the largest Muslim nation, Indonesia is ready to do what it can to support peace. He had also met the Israeli trade minister a few years ago and had been planning to visit Israel again in February this year. However, he added, Indonesia can’t have formal ties with Israel without a peaceful settlement.

Asked about the role of Indonesia’s religious leaders in the country’s perspective on Israel, he said he had visited Israel and the Palestinian areas three times, and has told Indonesia’s religious leaders they should support peace between the two and become friends with both sides. He added that to support peace, people must be friendly with both sides, and he had told Israelis and Palestinians they need to get to know each other. The most important thing is for the two sides to talk, and for Indonesia to support that if needed. Indonesia has diplomatic ties with the Palestinians, and although there is no Indonesian post in Ramallah, it conducts the relationship from Jordan, and can play a role in talks from there.

If there is a peaceful outcome, he said, Indonesia will do whatever it can to support that.

It was pointed out to him that there may not be peace for a generation, and there is a lot Israel has to offer Indonesia in terms of technology, and that other countries had engaged strongly with Israel economically and culturally while maintaining a political stance favouring the Palestinians. He was asked why wouldn’t Indonesia do that, and what could be done to advance the relationship without stepping away from Indonesia’s political stance.

He replied that business, investment and technology have no borders. For example, Israeli technology in agriculture and water has come to Indonesia indirectly, through third parties such as companies from other countries. He added that he has told people on both sides that the conflict is bad for them too – Israel needs to spend a huge amount of its budget on defence, and the Palestinians borders get smaller, when they start wars, so he hopes for progress for the good of both sides.

Asked about a survey in Indonesia that showed that 58 per cent of teachers and 54 per cent of students in religious colleges see Jews as the enemy of Islam, he said that this was the ideology of conservative religious people, but the general population is more realistic. Most people now have no problem when he tells people them he has met with Netanyahu because people are changing the way they think.

As to antisemitism in mosques, he said mosques and imams should be focussed on peace and solutions, and it is important to change the way they think, but their main concern is the Palestinians and their future, and they see the Palestinians as victims. However, he says this is politics and concern for the Palestinians, not antisemitism. As an example, he noted that there is no hostility when AIJAC Executive Director Colin Rubenstein comes to visit Indonesia.

Asked about the opportunities for Jewish bodies to work to improve ties between Indonesia and Israel, he said that when people come to Indonesia, they don’t get asked what their religion is, they get asked what they have to offer. Indonesia, he said, is very accepting of all religions, and even celebrates the holidays of other religions, not just Islam.

Asked about co-operation between Australia and Indonesia in fighting terror, he noted there is good co-operation between police from the two countries, with Australia establishing a training centre there, at  Semarang and Australia giving technical support with the two countries learning from each other.

The Indonesian relationship with the US, he said, is good historically, with lots of US investment there. However, China, as it rises, is pursuing opportunities more aggressively, so he hopes the US will now invest more strongly in the ASEAN region, as it will be better for the region if the US competes.

 

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