Muslim groups in Indonesia demand the closure of the country’s first-ever Holocaust exhibition

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(JTA) — Some Muslim groups in Indonesia are demanding the closure of the country’s first permanent Holocaust exhibit, saying it is part of an effort to normalize Indonesia’s relations with Israel.

The exhibit was launched on International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 and is located in Indonesia’s only synagogue, Shaar HaShamayim, located in the Indonesian province of North Sulawesi. “Shoah: how is it humanly possible? was created by the Israel-based Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

Yaakov Baruch, the rabbi of Shaar Hashamayim, said his motivation for opening the exhibit was personal.

“When I came up with the idea to build a Holocaust museum, the reason was to remember my family who died in the Holocaust on my grandmother’s side,” Baruch said. “And I also want to educate Indonesians about the danger of anti-Semitism, especially the danger of hate crimes.”

But groups protesting the exhibit say they see it as part of Israel’s attempts to normalize relations with Indonesia and the occupation of Palestinian territories, according to BenarNews, an online news service affiliated with Radio Free Asia.

“We demand the cessation of all exhibitions and the cancellation of the museum [and] interrupted,” said Sudarnoto Abdul Hakim, head of external relations and international cooperation at the Indonesian Council of Ulemas in the country, an Islamic clerical body known as MUI.

“Jewish communities and descendants of Jewish people everywhere, including in Indonesia and North Sulawesi, should also see quite clearly the brutal acts that have been perpetrated by Israeli Zionists against the Palestinian people since 1948,” he said. -he adds.

The MUI – which was once chaired by Indonesian Vice President Ma’run Amin – is known in Indonesia for holding conservative and sometimes controversial religious views.

But representatives of other groups expressed similar sentiments. Hidayat Nur Wahid, vice president of Indonesia’s legislative branch, the People’s Consultative Assembly, and a lawmaker for the Prosperous Justice Party, told BenarNews that he opposes the exhibit’s ties to Yad Vashem because the museum director’s ties to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Dani Dayan, who is the former chairman of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization for Israeli settlements in the West Bank, was named head of Yad Vashem last summer.

Meanwhile, representatives of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Islamic organization in Indonesia – and the largest Islamic organization in the world – have expressed in support of the exhibition. The local government also provided support, according to a source familiar with the situation.

The request to close the exhibition comes amid rumors circulating about the intensification of diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Israel, which currently have no formal ties. Last month, Israeli officials said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has raised the possibility of normalized relations, suggesting that Indonesia could join several other Muslim nations in opening ties with Israel. The allegation was later confirmed by the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but officials played down reports increased discussions.

Barriers to normalized relationships remain high, including the fears of Indonesia’s current leadership of losing the support of the predominantly Muslim public, who want the independence of the Palestinian people. The country’s constitution states that “independence is the right of all peoples”, meaning that the island nation supports Palestinian independence. Indonesia has long supported a two-state solution.

“There are now many reports in the mass media that cannot be confirmed,” Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said at a press briefing in January. “Indonesia’s principle on Palestinian issues remains unchanged. We support the Palestinians and we will continue to work on the two-state solution for the freedom of Palestine.

This political agenda can easily translate into anti-Semitism, according to Mun’im Sirry, professor of world religions and world church at the University of Notre Dame.

A photo of the gate of the Shaar HaShamayim Synagogue in Indonesia. (Yaakov Baruch)

“Indonesians don’t always distinguish between Jews and Israelis,” Sirry said. “They also don’t distinguish between the foreign policy of the state and the people of Israel. And that’s a problem. »

According to Sirry, anti-Semitic discourse existed in Indonesia before the founding of the State of Israel. But it became more prominent in public life as more religious groups and parties emerged after the fall of Suharto’s authoritarian regime in 1998.

He calls Indonesia’s situation “anti-Semitism without Jews” – anti-Semitism is on the rise, but the country is home to virtually no Jews.

It is not illegal to practice Judaism in Indonesia, but many Jews try to keep a low profile and practice in private. There are only five legally recognized religions – Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism – which means Jews must identify with just one.

Baruch’s ID card says he is a Christian, but he says Jews in Muslim-majority areas identify as Muslim.

Rabbi Yaakov Baruch

Rabbi Yaakov Baruch delivers a speech at the Shaar HaShamayim Synagogue in Indonesia. (Yaakov Baruch)

Baruch estimates that there are only 20 to 30 practicing traditional Sephardic Jews in his synagogue and another 20 to 30 Jews in Jakarta practicing at home.

Most, like Baruch himself, are descendants of Dutch Jews who first arrived in Indonesia in the 17th century with the Dutch East India Company. The community built a synagogue in Surabaya in 1939, which was destroyed in 2013.

“I was once assaulted with my pregnant wife in Jakarta because I was wearing a yarmulke,” he said. “But now my hometown [Tondano, North Sulawesi] is much safer because there are many Christians here.

Baruch added that the local government has provided support and security to the small Jewish community since the synagogue was built in 2004.

Richelle Budd Caplan, director of international relations and projects at Yad Vashem’s International School of Holocaust Studies, said the exhibit at Shaar HaShamayim was part of an effort to disseminate documentary content about the ‘Holocaust in 20 languages.

“We hope that this exhibition and others like it will continue to raise awareness of the Holocaust and provide more opportunities for citizens of Indonesia, Asia and the world to learn more about the atrocities that took place in not so distant past,” said Caplan, who attended the opening in Sulawesi via Zoom.

JTA contacted Steven Kandouw – the deputy governor of North Sulawesi province who attended the museum’s opening – as well as MUI and the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, but received no response.

“I will fight for it,” Baruch said of the Holocaust exhibit at his synagogue. “It’s about our people. I want to remember that my grandmother’s family, those 6 million Jews, died in the Holocaust.

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