Indonesian ambassador addresses the Capital Jewish Forum

November 2, 2009 by Henry Benjamin
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The recently formed Capital Jewish Forum has hosted a luncheon addressed by the Indonesian ambassador.

Ambassador Primo Alui Joelianto and CJF founder Manny Waks

Ambassador Primo Alui Joelianto and CJF founder Manny Waks

More than 30 members of Canberra’s Jewish community heard Ambassador Primo Alui Joelianto, the representative of the country which has world’s highest Muslim population describe political and social issues within its borders.

Ambassador Joelianto discussed a range of issues relating to interfaith dialogue at the meeting held at the Australian National University.

Some of the main points raised by the Ambassador during the Q&A session include:

· The main challenge for Indonesia is that there are so many ethnic groups, religions and tribes which are dispersed among Indonesia’s more than 17,000 islands. It is no easy feat to achieve unity.

· The role of the Ministry of Religious Affairs is to coordinate religious life. It is essential that this task is undertaken by the government otherwise there is a danger that the majority would have a stranglehold over religious life.

· Israeli representatives cannot attend interfaith dialogue initiatives in Indonesia as Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. Israeli citizens may use alternative passports to enter Indonesia. In response to the question that should not religion be above politics – and therefore Israelis should be permitted to gain entry for the purpose of interfaith dialogue – the Ambassador responded that this would be unacceptable to the people of Indonesia.

· The reasons Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel are:

o The Indonesian Constitution specifically states that colonialism and imperialism is against humanity and Israel is an occupying country; and

o Most Indonesians are Muslims and therefore align themselves with the Palestinians – their solidarity is with the Palestinians who are being oppressed.

· In response to a question why it is not okay to have diplomatic relations with Israel but to accept aid from Israel (e.g. post-2004 Tsunami) the Ambassador stated that the aid was received due to practical reasons – pros and cons were examined and ultimately a decision was made to accept the aid.

· One of the reasons of Islamic radicalisation in Indonesia is that many young students travel to other countries for their studies (e.g. Pakistan) and bring back with them a radical form of Islam. This has a multiplying effect within Indonesia. This radicalism is a bad image for Indonesia and Islam, and is an ongoing challenge for the Indonesian government. This is why the government is dedicated to interfaith dialogue – it is an integral aspect of Indonesia’s foreign policy.

CJF founder Manny Waks commented:

“On behalf of the CJF I would like to thank Ambassador Joelianto for an open and engaging presentation at the ANU. The Q&A session covered a range of interesting and at times controversial topics. CJF members were fortunate to hear directly from Indonesia’s most senior representative to Australia about the views of the largest Muslim country’s government in relation to interfaith dialogue and Israel. I am not quite sure when, if ever, the Jewish community has had this opportunity. We greatly appreciated the Ambassador’s responses – especially to the tough questions relating to Indonesia’s non-relationship with Israel.

While numerous CJF members respectfully raised their objection to Indonesian policy in relation to Israel and interfaith relations, all members were delighted the Ambassador was willing to attend and engage in an open way.

Ambassador Joelianto’s repeated response to the question of the Indonesian-Israeli non-relationship – that a formal diplomatic relationship would be unacceptable to Indonesians – raises an interesting question: To what extent is democratic leadership a function of following the people’s wishes rather than leading them in a new direction? The CJF was established in August this year. Its mission statement:

‘The Capital Jewish Forum aims to promote discussion and engagement with intellectuals, dignitaries and leaders on topics which are of relevance to Jewish academic, policy and business professionals.

The Capital Jewish Forum has no political or ideological affiliation.’

The next CJF event will feature the Head of Delegation of the Palestinian Territories, Mr Izzat Abdulhadi, on Wednesday 25 November 2009.


One Response to “Indonesian ambassador addresses the Capital Jewish Forum”
  1. rachel merhav says:

    I’m certain that the late, former Indonesian President, Abdurrahman Wahid, who was a champion for human rights and a genuine, promoter of interfaith dialogue, and a close friend of Israel, would disagree with the view expressed by the Ambassador statement: ”that colonialism and imperialism is against humanity and Israel is an occupying country”.

    And I wonder what rerponse the Ambassador can provide to the statement made by Abdurrahman Wahid that he will not rest until his country recognizes Israel. He then dedicated the honor he received to an unnamed rabbi (in Indonesia!), deceased for a few years, who enriched his life by introducing him to Talmud and Kabbalah.

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