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Indonesia: Muslim Groups Demand Closure Of Newly Opened Holocaust Museum

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By Ronna Nirmala

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Indonesian Muslim groups, including an influential scholars’ body, are demanding the closure of a Holocaust museum that opened last week, with some saying it is part of Israel’s attempts to normalize relations with Jakarta and its occupation of Palestinian lands.

The first permanent exhibition and museum in Indonesia devoted to the memory of victims of the Holocaust opened in North Sulawesi province on Jan. 27, and is housed inside Indonesia’s lone synagogue.

The opening occurred amid reported Israeli overtures to establish ties with the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation. Indonesia, a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, has long refused to open diplomatic ties with the Jewish State.

“We demand any exhibition be stopped and the museum be cancelled discontinued,” said Sudarnoto Abdul Hakim, the head of foreign relations and international cooperation at the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the country’s semi-official Islamic authority.

According to reports in the Israeli press, the museum-cum-exhibition is curated by the Jerusalem-based Yad Vashem – also known as the World Holocaust Remembrance Center – and one of its representatives attended the opening virtually.

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The decision to allow the museum in Indonesia was “not wise” and could cause “communal friction” at a time when Israel is still occupying Palestinian lands and mistreating Palestinians, Sudarnoto said.

The exhibition at the synagogue in West Tondano regency was inaugurated in the presence of North Sulawesi Dep. Gov. Steven Kandouw and the German ambassador to Indonesia, Ina Lepel. Its opening was timed to coincide with International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Hidayat Nur Wahid, deputy speaker of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) and a lawmaker with the faith-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), said the museum was an attempt by Israel to whitewash its occupation of East Jerusalem and the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

He described Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as a form of “apartheid” and “racism.”

“It turns out that the museum in Tondano is the result of a collaboration with the Yad Vashem Israel Museum, whose director is a major figure in Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank,” Hidayat told BenarNews.

“I suspect it is part of manoeuvres to pave the way for the normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and Indonesia.”

Yaakov Baruch, an Indonesian businessman of Dutch Jewish descent who is the rabbi at the synagogue, said the museum was created in part to defy growing anti-Jewish sentiment in Indonesia, and claims by some people that the Holocaust never happened.

“I want to emphasize that this is not true. Indonesian people may hate Israel but they must not deny the bitter and dark history of a nation (Jews). With this Holocaust Museum, I want to show that racism and hatred cannot be tolerated at all,” a news report quoted him as saying.

Officials at the North Sulawesi provincial government could not be reached immediately for comment.

‘Indonesia will side with the Palestinian people’

Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, has confirmed reports that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during meetings with officials in Jakarta in December, had discussed the prospect of Indonesia normalizing ties with Israel.

Indonesia has insisted it will not establish diplomatic ties with Israel until there is a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict acceptable to both sides.

“The Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi conveyed Indonesia’s consistent position on Palestine, that Indonesia will side with the Palestinian people in their struggle for justice and independence,” Teuku Faizasyah, spokesman for the foreign ministry, told BenarNews last month.

Last month, Israeli media reported that a delegation of Indonesian health officials visited Israel and met there with Israeli officials in an effort “to learn how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.”

Indonesia’s COVID-19 task force and the health ministry denied that their officials had gone to Israel, while the Foreign Ministry said it was not aware of such a trip.

‘Prevent things that are not desirable’

MUI’s Sudarnoto said Indonesia’s Jewish community should understand the objection to the museum.

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

Sudarnoto said local representatives of the MUI and other Islamic organizations had been in communication with the local government and the tiny Jewish community in North Sulawesi.

“The goal is to prevent things that are not desirable… Jewish community leaders there are willing to meet with MUI representatives. I think this is a good step, to resolve the issue in a persuasive way,” Sudarnoto said.

BenarNews

BenarNews’ mission is to provide readers with accurate news and information that reflects the complex and ever-changing world around them. With homepages in Bengali, Thai, Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia and English, BenarNews brings timely news to its diverse audience. Copyright BenarNews. Used with the permission of BenarNews

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