The controversy over the opening of the first Holocaust museum in Southeast Asia highlights the differences in the Muslim world over the limits of religious tolerance and the ability of Muslims to debate those limits.
Controversy over the Minahasa museum in North Sulawesi, which houses one of two known synagogues in Indonesia, comes as the US and American Jewish groups have lobbied the largest Muslim-majority democracy of the world to recognize Israel. Indonesia’s tiny Jewish community is estimated at around 100.
US and Israeli officials believe that recognition of Israel by Indonesia, or one of the largest Muslim-majority Asian countries, would allow Saudi Arabia, guardian of Islam’s two holiest cities, La Mecca and Medina, to follow the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in establishing diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. The two small Gulf states established relations with Israel in 2020.
The controversy over the Shaar HaShamayim Synagogue Museum has also erupted as autocratic Arab countries seek to reconnect with their former Jewish communities in a bid to project themselves as beacons of religious moderation and tolerance.
Crackdowns on free speech in countries like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have allowed both countries to portray near-unanimous public support for their budding relationship with Israel.
However, the crackdown has not stopped expressions of anti-Jewish sentiment in countries like Kuwait.
“Is this what we have become in a country whose heritage prides itself on coexistence? What a pity. What a loss for us. How heartbreaking for our ancestors, a few of whom were Jews who lived here alongside us,” said Kuwaiti poet and writer Nejoud Al-Yagout.
Ms Al-Yagout spoke out after the US Embassy in Kuwait was approached last November on social media for wishing Jews a happy Hanukkah.
In contrast, the controversy in Indonesia has centered more on condemnation of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians than on anti-Jewish sentiment. It highlighted strong divisions among Indonesian Muslims over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and their ability to publicly expose their differences.
The controversy has been fueled by the fact that the Holocaust museum became a reality thanks to support from Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust. A Yad Vashem executive participated via video link in the inauguration of the museum last month on International Holocaust Day.
Yad Vashem’s role sparked speculation that the museum was a backdoor to deepen Israeli-Indonesian relations.
“The Indonesian government should act decisively and immediately demolish the museum as it is provocative and its presence is unwelcome among many in this country,” said Muhyiddin Junaidi, vice chairman of the advisory board of the Indonesian Ulema Council. (MUI), the country. upper body of Islamic scholars.
Echoing Junaidi’s remarks, Sudarnoto Abdul Hakim, the group’s vice president for foreign affairs, insisted that “Jewish communities and descendants of Jewish people everywhere, including in Indonesia and northern Sulawesi, should…see clearly and fairly the brutal acts that have been perpetrated by Israeli Zionists against the Palestinian people since 1948.”
Mr. Abdul Hakim suggested that Jewish leaders meet with the Council “to prevent things that are not desirable…I think this is a good step to solve the problem in a convincing way”.
Mr. Abdul Hakim’s potentially disturbing remarks and Mr. Junaidi’s call for the destruction of the museum contrasted sharply with statements by Yahya Cholil Staquf, the newly elected president of Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest civil society movement. which numbers up to 90 million people. .
A supporter of humanitarian Islam, Mr Staquf, joined world leaders in commemorating the United Nations’ International Holocaust Remembrance Day last month.
“The memory of the Holocaust serves as a memorial and living reminder of the cruelty, violence and suffering that so many human beings…have, for thousands of years, inflicted on others. Today , in remembrance of the Holocaust and its millions of victims, Nahdlatul Ulama and I wish to raise our voices in a simple and heartfelt appeal: Choose compassion,” Staquf said during a virtual event co-hosted by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center was founded in honor of one of the world’s greatest Nazi crime-hunters.
Unlike critics of the Indonesian council and the American embassy in Kuwait, Mr. Staquf did not hesitate to acknowledge the genocide against the Jews while demanding justice for the Palestinians.
Mr. Staquf made this clear, not only in his appeal for compassion, but also when speaking at an event organized around the same time by the Palestinian Embassy in Jakarta.
“Palestinian self-determination is a humanitarian mandate. All parties, including Hamas, Fatah and the world community as a whole, must put aside their subjective interests and focus on improving the lives of the Palestinian people. Because the fate of the Palestinians is the fate of humanity,” Mr. Staquf said. He was referring to the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip as well as the party that rules the West Bank.
The difference of approach between Mr. Satquf and the spokespersons of the Indonesian Council concerns much more than the Palestinian question. It is about what should be the essence of Islam in the 21st century, an Islam that looks back and nurtures grievances or an Islam that seeks to reach out, build bridges and find solutions.