Jones takes Judaism to Java

November 25, 2016 by J-Wire Staff
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Jeremy Jones, Director of International and of Community Affairs of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, has completed an intensive programme of dialogues, discussions, meetings and seminars in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia.

With a schedule including a major international forum attended by politicians, diplomats, academics and civil society activists, universities, Pesantrans (similar to Yeshivahs) and Islamic leadership groups, he traveled to six cities to talk about Judaism, Jewish-Muslim relations, Israel and terrorism, and to answer “all and every question an Indonesian Muslim – and any other person present – wanted to ask”.

Jeremy Jones addresses university students in Kadiri

Jeremy Jones addresses university students in Kadiri

His first assignment was the World Peace Forum, an international event convened every two years by Muhammadiyah (Indonesia’s – and the world’s – second largest Muslim membership organisation), Malaysia’s Cheng Ho Trust and the Jakarta-based Centre for Dialogue and Cooperation  Amongst Civilizations. Speakers included the President and senior government ministers from Indonesia, former President and Prime Minister of Timor L’Este, Xanana Gusmao, and political and religious leaders from a number of Asian, African and European countries. Jones spoke at the first Plenary Session, on the subject of Countering Violent Extremism.

The most common subject raised during the week-long Forum was the growth of Islamist terrorist groups and the challenges they present to policy makers and also to the Muslim communities which are targeted as sources for recruits and support. On this issue, as with the next most commonly discussed issue, the activities of far-right racists, most Jews and Muslims are “on the same page”, he noted.

“As the only Jewish person present, I was asked a number of questions over the course of the Forum on religion, dialogue, Israeli perspectives on international affairs and particularly on prospects for a peaceful future for peoples in the Middle East” Jones said.

“In private discussions, it was evident that, in too many countries, there is little or no possibility of having a calm, rational discussion of Israel, Palestinians and the many and varied nuances in the relationship between various States, ideologies and interest groups in the broader Middle East”.

“The opportunity to have these discussions was welcomed, often enthusiastically”, Jones noted.

As the Forum was drawing to a close, a crowd estimated to be in the tens, or even hundreds, of thousands was gathering near the conference venue, to protest alleged insults to Islam made by a prominent non-Muslim Indonesian politician.

This brought the issue of relations of Muslims and non-Muslims to the fore of discussions for much of his time in Java, Jones observed.

After a break for Shabbat, spent with a small group of observant Orthodox Jews in Jakarta, Jones commenced a six city tour of lectures, meetings, dialogues and discussions, speaking to audiences totalling nearly 2,000 people and having small-group interactions with senior religious and academic figures.

Whether the designated subject was Historic Interactions of Jews and Muslims, the Search for Peace in the Middle East, Religions and Dialogue or Judaism in the Twenty First Century, there was a barrage of questions on Judaism, Zionism and whether Jews and Muslims can live together constructively.

“A number of the questioners wanted to know my responses to specific Quranic verses concerning Jews, the writings of Islamic scholars on Jewish characteristics and depictions of Jews they had encountered via the media or on-line”.

“Whether or not they agreed with my answers, I was invariably treated respectfully and there was genuine appreciation that I had made efforts to become familiar with the text of the Quran, commentaries on it and other sources on Islamic belief and practice”, he noted.

“Many of the meetings in which I participated and the Islamic institution I addressed were affiliated with Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s – and the world’s – largest Islamic organisation which has an estimated 55-60 million adherents”, Jones commented.

“The opportunity to talk to so many people about Judaism and Israel, as well as common concerns, was one I greatly welcomed”.

“The entire visit reinforced my view that Indonesia, as Australia’s nearest neighbour and the world’s most populous Muslim country, can play in important role in the future of dialogue between Jews and Muslims, and in promoting international tolerance and harmony”, he concluded.

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