Muslim leaders launched a project earlier this month to build relations between Indonesia and Israel. If successful, the project could pave the way for the country’s more than 200 million Muslims to be linked in friendship with the Jewish state.
The Rahim Foundation: The Ibrahim Heritage Study Center For Peace was launched last month to engage in research and studies on peace and conflict resolution, both on a global and local scale. The founders believe that given the growing conflicts in the world, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the unresolved Palestinian-Israeli conflict, more initiatives focusing on conflict resolution are needed.
The Rahim Foundation was formed by a coalition of Indonesian Muslims, Jews, and Noahides. hides, including members of the Lembaga Bahtsul Masail Nahdlatul Ulama (LBM NU), the steering committee of Nahdlatul Ulama. The NU is the largest Muslim organization in the world, with approximately 140 million members from Indonesian Muslim society.
Rahim is the outgrowth of a program initiated by Elisheva Stross, who, more than one year ago, founded Eits Chaim Indonesia. This Indonesian Jewish organization promotes a better understanding of Judaism and the Land of Israel to Indonesians through an educational radio program.
Stross, who is originally from Indonesia but converted to Judaism and lives in Israel, related the remarkable story behind the initiative:
“In the final stages of Trump’s presidency, he offered incentives to the Indonesian government to establish ties with Israel as an extension of the Abraham Accords,” Stross said. The government did not move forward at that time, but they took note that many Muslim nations were normalizing relations with Israel.
Muslim Indonesia has no ties to Israel.
It should be emphasized that there are currently no formal diplomatic ties between Israel and Indonesia, although they maintain quiet trade, tourism, and security contacts. In 2012, Indonesia spoke of upgrading relations with Israel and opening a consulate, but this agreement was never implemented. According to a 2017 BBC World Service Poll, 64% of Indonesians viewed Israel’s influence negatively, compared to only 9% expressing a positive view.
Religion seems to be the reason for this divide, as Islam is the largest religion in Indonesia, with 86.7% of the Indonesian population identifying themselves as Muslim. Indonesia is the most populous Muslim-majority country, with approximately 231 million adherents and the world’s third-largest democracy.
The government regulates religion in Indonesia. Indonesian Jews face the challenge of declaring a religion on their government ID cards which every citizen must carry. The ID includes the holder’s religion, and Indonesia only recognizes six religions, none of which is Judaism. Reportedly, many Jews who have registered a religion have registered as Christians.
“The Indonesian government is concerned about the current negative public perception of Israel,” Stross said. “The government turned to the religious leaders of the NU. These are some of the most powerful leaders in the Muslim world. After monitoring Stross’s program, the NU leaders came to me.”
They asked Stross to speak at a virtual conference held on January 24, 2021. Stross was joined by Bassam Eid, a Palestinian living in Jericho, a Palestinian human rights activist. Eid is critical of the Palestinian Authority, citing its many human rights violations, and advocates for true coexistence with Israel. She also invited Gil Yakir, a former IDF officer who had surreptitious business dealings with the government of Indonesia.
“Our talks about Israel were eye-opening for the Indonesians who had only heard one-sided anti-Israel rhetoric,” Stross said. “There are no Jews in Indonesia, and travel is restricted. There is no Israeli embassy, but there is a Palestinian embassy.”
In her address to the conference, Stross cited Indonesian politician and Islamic religious leader Abdurrahman Wahid, known as Gus Dur, who served as the 4th President of Indonesia until 2001.
“Dur was a firm advocate of bringing peace by hearing both sides,” Stross said. “Indonesians have a negative perception of Israel, but that is because they have never been presented with anything else. They are open to new information.”
The attendees were compelled by this argument and requested Stross arrange more speakers. Every month, an online conference was held presenting talks from former Knesset Member Yehudah Glick, head of the Shalom Jerusalem Foundation, prominent Hebron businessman Ashraf Jabari, and Arab-Israeli educator Nahil Zoabi – who ran for Knesset in the previous election – and Jerusalem’s Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, among others.
“I brought them Muslims to address them in Arabic,” Stross said. “The Palestinians told them about Israel, and it really touched their hearts. These are Palestinians who believe their people are suffering from the Palestinian rule and wanted to live with Israelis.”
The talks made such an impression that the religious leaders of NU decided that an organization was needed to educate Indonesians at large. Rahim was formed for this purpose.
Stross emphasized that the government highly respects the Muslim leaders and educators involved in the project.
Israel and the Arab/Muslim world
Suppose Rahim is successful in building ties between Israel and Indonesia. In that case, this will solidify the remarkable phenomenon of the Israeli relations with other countries that were either ambivalent or outright antagonistic towards the Jewish nation.
Elder of Ziyon, a pro-Israel blogger, recently posted that based on population numbers from Wikipedia, Israel now has official relations with countries that represent 49.93% of the population of all Arab countries.
“If you add the countries that Israel has indirect relations with, like Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar, this rises to at least 60.13% – nearly a quarter of a billion Arabs!” he wrote. “Of course, many of the Arabs within those countries still hate Israel, but this is truly an astounding statistic that could not have been dreamed of in years past.”
The blogger draws this conclusion based on normalized relations between Israel and the following countries:
- Egypt (98.5 million)
- Sudan (41.8 million)
- Morocco(36 million)
- Saudi Arabia (33.7 million)
- Jordan (10 million)
- Bahrain (1.5 million)
- Oman (4.8 million)
- Qatar (2.7 million)
This list grows substantially as Muslim majority countries are added. Though relations between Israel and Turkey (population 84.3 million) have deteriorated, Turkey was the first Muslim majority country to recognize the State of Israel in 1949. The two countries maintained diplomatic relations. \
This is reversing the curse of Balaam:
As I see them from the mountain tops, Gaze on them from the heights, There is a people that dwells apart, Not reckoned among the nations, Numbers 23:9
The Israel Bible explained that this was a failed attempt by Balaam to curse the nation of Israel:
His plan is foiled by Hashem, and instead of a curse, Balaam utters a reluctant compliment, “There is a people that dwells apart, not reckoned among the nations.” The Jews have always been set aside from among the nations and singled out for special treatment for better or worse. Today, Israel receives a disproportionate amount of coverage by the media, most of it negative. However, we must recognize the inherent lesson of this solitude: the People of Israel have been singled out for a holy purpose. Hashem chose them to remain faithful to Him and fulfill the biblical mandate of teaching His truths to the world. While for most of history, the Jewish Nation has indeed been an isolated “people that dwells apart,” that reality began to change with the establishment of the State of Israel. For the first time, millions of non-Jews have started to stand together with the People of Israel, rejecting the curse of Balaam.