Monday, May 07, 2007

Another Side of Israel

Opinion and Editorial, The Jakarta Post (April 28, 2007)

Al Makin

There are many Indonesian Muslim leaders who will certainly blow up the issue, with regard to the possible arrival of Israeli parliament members in Bali to attend the 116th Conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), from April 29 to May 4. A few have even declared that Muslims will take to the streets to protest the Israelis.

It is not hard to guess, however, who the main proponents of this idea are. To begin with, there are the leaders of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), such Hidayat Nur Wahid, who is currently speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), and Tifatul Sembiring, PKS president.

Fauzan Ali Anshori, a leader of the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI), subscribes to the same view. It is also reported that the head of the Council of the Indonesian Islamic Call (DDII), Kholil Ridwan, has made more or less the same threat in statements.
Let us set aside these voices for a moment to turn to Indonesia's and Indonesians misleading views of Israel and Jews.

It may be well that the negative views over Israel are primarily based on supposedly theological considerations. Many hold literal meanings of the numerous verses of the Koran, such as the story that is contained in chapter two of al-Baqarah and elsewhere. The Jews, according to the story, were always hostile to their own prophets, whom God had sent to guide them.
Others have also interpreted literally the story of the sinful acts committed by the tribes of Qurayza, Nadir and Qunayqa in classical Muslim literature. The story goes that these tribes betrayed the Prophet Muhammad, which brought about their expulsion from the city of Medina.
What concerns us here is that, according to these incorrect views, today's Jews are seen by some as no different from the past ones, in terms of their sinful acts, regardless of the distance of over a millennium and half between the time of writing of the classical literature and the present. This opinion, of course, begs for a revision, due to its erroneous historical ground.

There is also the complex context of each phase of human history during a millennium and half in which a simple generalization cannot be easily accepted. Can we judge today's people on the basis of their allegedly ancestors?

As regards the current issues related to modern Israel, these always seem too sensitive to be addressed in the public realm. This is due to the fact that public opinion seems to fail to catch any quick changes in Middle Eastern politics, and the dynamic attitudes embraced by some Arab leaders themselves. We seem merely to stick to the old prejudice that any Israeli elements should be rejected theologically and politically.

This view has often been justified by the unresolved conflict between Israel and the Palestinian territory.

However, our understanding of the issue is, one can perhaps say, too limited, because we tend to have a one-sided perspective. Thus, we have always maintained that we stand with the Muslims, the victims, the oppressed -- against the others who have oppressed. In addition, we have never attempted to understand the issue from another perspective, such as Israel's.
In fact, a brave example has been given by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who offered real talks between Arab countries and Israel on the occasion of an Arab summit just few weeks ago. Although this has not been responded to positively by the Israelis, this attempt, without a doubt, deserves appreciation.

One may infer that mere antagonism has led us to nothing but more disaster. So why do we not try to sit down and talk? Why do we not try to better understand each other? As a rule, in an ideal reciprocal understanding, one party should understand the intentions of another and should accommodate its interests. Any prejudices against another should be discarded.
If King Abdullah himself has offered talks, is there any reason to prevent Indonesia from talking with Israeli? Can we set aside our old prejudices for a moment? At the least, can we see the issue from both sides, not merely hold our own version of reality?

It is noteworthy that attempting this would not reduce our solidarity with the long-suffering Palestinians.

What have we gained and how much have we helped the Palestinians by our current approach of antagonism and prejudice against Israel? Is that the best solution? It seems to be time to rethink the best role for Indonesians in the Middle East. Should we sharpen the conflict by ignoring one of the parties involved, or should we talk to both parties?

Nevertheless, let us just return to our main theme. At the government level, just accepting the Israeli MPs seems to be much less problematic, as the Indonesian foreign minister, Hassan Wirajuda, diplomatically put it, saying it is impossible to reject them. As mentioned earlier, a few parties will disagree and will protest this. However, the vast majority of Indonesians will watch TV and will enjoy the news while drinking a cup of coffee or tea.

The writer is a lecturer at Sunan Kalijaga Islamic University in Yogyakarta and a doctoral candidate at Seminar fur Sprachen und Kulturen des Vorderen Orients at Heidelberg University in Germany. He can be reached at


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