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Despite unrest in Indonesia, a Jewish community finds peace among other faith groups

TAIPEI, Taiwan (JTA) — Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and Israel’s retaliatory war in Gaza, massive pro-Palestinian demonstrations have taken place in Jakarta and other Indonesian cities.

They have startled Jews like Maryam, who asked to be identified by only her first name to maintain safety and privacy. She said she has heard shouts of “death to Jews” ringing out in the streets.

“Since the war [in] Israel and Gaza, we are really hiding ourselves because there is a big demonstration almost every day,” Maryam, who is in her 70s and lives in Jakarta, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “At Hanukkah, I used to put the menorah in the window. But now I cannot, I have to put it inside.”

Maryam is one of a tiny but unknown total number of practicing Jews in Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. Besides her small community in Jakarta, where 10 to 20 Jews meet at her house every Shabbat, 50 people from several Indonesian regions gather online regularly for services by Rabbi Benjamin Meijer Verbrugge. Another 30 to 50 Jews attend Rabbi Yaakov Baruch’s congregation in the province of North Sulawesi, a chain of islands northeast of Java.

Today, Baruch’s synagogue, Shaar Hashamayim in the city of Tondano, is the only brick-and-mortar one left standing in Indonesia, which is thought to have been home to about 2,500 Jews in the 1930s.

Since the Israel-Hamas war began, the protests have also frightened Baruch, but he has leaned on his strong relationships with other faith communities in his Christian-majority region to create what he sees as an umbrella of peace. Christians in the area have offered support to his community and a police officer has begun guarding the synagogue during prayer services.

“When I saw what happened in Jakarta and other cities, I felt like I’m not sure that we will still have a good relationship [with other religious communities] after this,” he said. “So I started to contact a lot of religious leaders, talking about positive things, talking about what projects we can do in the future to keep our relations strong.”

Baruch looks at posters with the names and images of Israelis taken hostage by Hamas. (Courtesy of Baruch)

Baruch hung posters of the Israeli hostages on the walls of the synagogue “so the Jews and non-Jews can come to pray there for the safety of all the hostages,” he said. “I brought interfaith Muslim and Christian leaders to pray for the safety of the Israeli and Palestinian people, not Hamas. I just want to show them that we have empathy.”

“When I do interfaith prayer, it’s not only Christian and Muslim leaders, but also Buddhist leaders, Anglicans,” he said. “They’re always asking about me, asking, ‘What are you doing? Are you safe?’”

It’s an example of solidarity in the midst of a conflict that has scared many Jews around the world, including in Indonesia, into hiding.

Across the globe, Jews have expressed what they call an almost unparalleled fear as antisemitic incidents — from vandalism of Jewish sites to shootings, bomb scares and violent attacks — have skyrocketed. Recent antisemitism statistics are not available, but a Pew survey from 2010 found that 74 percent of Indonesians had unfavorable opinions about Jews.

Indonesia has no formal ties with the state of Israel, but it has long called for a two-state solution and maintains some trade, tourism and security links. The country has recognized a Palestinian state since 1988 and has maintained close relations with Palestinian organizations since 1945, when Palestinian leaders expressed support for an independent Indonesia and encouraged other Arab states’ support through the Arab League.

Since the start of the war, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has repeatedly condemned the violence in Gaza and has urged parties to “stop the escalation, to stop the use of violence, to focus on humanitarian issues, and to solve the root of the problem, namely the Israeli occupation of Palestine.” Outside of politics, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the country’s top Islamic clerical body, on Nov. 13 issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, mandating that Muslims support the Palestinians’ fight for independence and forbidding support for Israeli “aggression.” The fatwa recommended that Muslims avoid buying any products affiliated with Israel.

Last week, Israeli forces closed in on Indonesia Hospital — reportedly the only hospital still operating in northern Gaza — where health authorities said 12 people were killed in an Israeli strike on Nov. 20. The hospital, opened in 2016, was built with Indonesian funds and is staffed by Palestinians as well as some Indonesian volunteers.

Israel has accused Hamas of hiding its network of command centers and tunnels beneath hospitals in Gaza, including under the Indonesian Hospital, claiming that Hamas “systematically built the Indonesian Hospital to disguise its underground terror infrastructure.” Indonesia’s foreign ministry has denied those accusations, stating that the hospital in Gaza is used “entirely for humanitarian purposes and to serve the medical needs of the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

Indonesia’s foreign ministry strongly condemned Israel’s attack, calling it a “blatant violation of international humanitarian law.”

Thousands of people spread a giant Palestinian flag as they gather in a rally in Jakarta, Nov. 5, 2023. (Azwar Ipank/AFP via Getty Images)

Indonesia’s first Jewish communities date back to the 19th century, when Ashkenazi and Baghdadi Jews immigrated in search of economic opportunities offered through the Dutch colonization of the East Indies. The community peaked at an estimated 2,500 across Java and Sumatra before World War II. 

Hostilities toward Jews began to rise after the war, during the founding of a modern independent Indonesia beginning in 1945 and especially after the founding of Israel in 1948. Many Jews subsequently left for Australia, Israel and the United States.

Those Jews who remain in Indonesia today are mostly descendants of those colonists, and many hide their Jewish identity in public or have given it up entirely. Meijer Verbrugge, a native Indonesian and coffee trader, has said that many local Muslims see Indonesian Jews as the offspring of colonial occupiers.

A congregation made up partially of those descendants as well as new Jewish converts across eight areas in Indonesia, led by Meijer Verbrugge, has been growing in recent years. He estimates a total membership of 180 people across eight regions.

In 2015, he said a Christian group beat the cantor at a home synagogue in Ambon, a small island in central Indonesia. But he said local authorities stepped in and began helping the community continue their services safely. Similar support has been offered to his communities since Oct. 7.

“We are very proud of our police department and military who protect our country, and even the police department have regular visits to my place to have talks. They are ready to protect us,” he said.

Meijer Verbrugge has been advocating for national recognition of the Jewish religion for nearly a decade. But Judaism is not one of Indonesia’s six recognized religions today — Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism. Although Jewish religious practice is permitted, this has meant that Baruch, Maryam and other members of the Jewish community have been forced to identify as one of those six religions on their official identity cards. Most choose Christianity.

“It’s not nice, but when Indonesia had their independence [in 1945], my grandmother said we are not leaving because we have a chance here. And she is right,” said Maryam. “But we have to change our religion [on official documents]. So we chose Christian because Jesus is a Jew, that’s what she said. And we went to a Catholic school after that.”

“We cannot use our wedding certificate, ketubah, to have a ceremony in Indonesia,” said Meijer Verbrugge. “We are supposed to use any other recognized religion’s wedding certificate. This is not fair.”

In 2009, a synagogue in Surabaya faced protests after it was designated by the Department of City Culture and Tourism as a cultural landmark. Groups demanded its closure several times until 2013, when the synagogue and its adjoining cemetery were destroyed for unknown reasons by landowners. Today, a high-rise hotel stands in its place.

In 2022, Baruch’s North Sulawesi synagogue was targeted by Muslim groups when he set up a small Holocaust exhibit there. Groups protesting the exhibition, including the MUI, pointed to the exhibition’s ties to Yad Vashem and saw it as part of Israel’s attempts to normalize relations with Indonesia and the occupation of Palestinian territories.

“Indonesians do not always distinguish between Jews and Israelis,” Mun’im Sirry, a professor of world religions at the University of Notre Dame, told JTA in 2022. “They also do not distinguish between the foreign policy of the state and the people of Israel. And that is a problem.”

Baruch told JTA that the issue of the Holocaust exhibition has since been resolved through dialogue with opposing parties. He has since adapted it into a permanent museum with the help of donations of artifacts via connections in Europe.

Maryam is less optimistic about the situation in Indonesia compared to Baruch. She describes connections with other religious organizations as a tax that Jews must pay in exchange for safety. Her own community donates money to local Muslim organizations “for our security,” she said.

“We in the Diaspora, we have no choice. You must trust Hashem,” she said, using a Hebrew term for God. “We have nobody. Who else? Hashem must protect us.”


The post Despite unrest in Indonesia, a Jewish community finds peace among other faith groups appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Harvard Alumni File Lawsuit Claiming Campus Antisemitism ‘Devalues’ Their Diplomas

[Illustrative] Harvard University students displaying a pro-Palestinian sign at their May 2022 graduation ceremony. Photo: Reuters/Brian Snyder

A group of ten Harvard University alumni filed a lawsuit against the institution on Wednesday, accusing it of “devaluing” their degrees through permitting and fostering an environment of antisemitism, support for terrorism, and anti-Israel sentiment. 

Filed in a Massachusetts federal court, the alumni claims that Harvard has breached an implicit contract with its graduates, promising to maintain the institution’s prestige, which they allege has been compromised due to a toxic campus environment. This, they argue, has led potential employers and prestigious law firms to distance themselves from Harvard alumni.

“Harvard has directly caused the value and prestige of plaintiffs’ Harvard degrees to be diminished and made a mockery out of Harvard graduates in the employment world and beyond,” the lawsuit said. 

The lawsuit argues that the university’s administration has failed to combat campus anti-semitism, and has consistently overlooked assaults on Jewish students and calls by students and faculty for the annihilation of Israel. It highlighted, among other things, an open letter signed by more than thirty student organizations blaming Israel for the October 7 Hamas-led attack, and campus protests which included chants like “Long live the intifada!” and “There is only one solution: intifada revolution!” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine is Arab!”

The suit also points to then-Harvard president Claudine Gay’s testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, where she stated that calls for genocide against Jews would only violate bullying and harassment policies “depending on the context,” as indicative of the school’s tolerance of antisemitism.

The lawsuit is part of a growing dissatisfaction among graduates over what they perceive as rampant antisemitism on U.S. campuses, according to attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, president of legal aid group, Shurat HaDin, who is representing the alumni alongside New York-based lawyer, Robert Tolchin.

Darshan-Leitner criticized the colleges for becoming “hate centers” under the guise of academic freedom. 

The lawsuit, Darshan-Leitner said, reveals the “growing outrage and contempt that graduates all across the US are feeling over the wild antisemitism and hate speech being encouraged and explained away on the American campuses.” 

“This dangerous weaponization of higher education by radical faculty and students as well as the impotent administration response, all justified under the guise of academic freedom, has turned the colleges into hate centers which has greatly devalued their reputation and diplomas,” she said, adding that the suit could prompt similar actions from graduates of other institutions.

Tolchin accused the university of succumbing to “the flavor of the month, the lowest level of discourse.”

“Harvard’s seal proclaims “Light and Truth” in Latin and Hebrew–yes, Hebrew, the language spoken by the indigenous Israelites. Yet light and truth have been hard to find at Harvard. The darkness of antisemitism and the dishonesty, hate, and discrimination have cast a pall over Harvard so embarrassing that people do not wish to be associated with Harvard,” Tolchin said. 

Harvard has been accused of facilitating an educational environment that is unwelcoming to Israelis and Jews for years, with the lawsuit citing annual events such as “Israel Apartheid Week” and incidents targeting Jewish students and symbols on campus. 

Antisemitism expert Dara Horn, a Harvard alumnus who was asked to join Gay’s anti-Semitism advisory committee, authored a damning essay published this week in The Atlantic in which she detailed the Jew hatred on campus predating October 7. 

She noted that staff members “who grade Jewish students used university-issued class lists to share information about events organized by pro-Palestine groups;” In one instance, a professor continued teaching after rejecting the findings of an investigation by Harvard after he was found discriminating against several Israeli students. Last spring, a student was asked to leave because her identity as an Israeli was making her classmates “uncomfortable.”

She also pointed to courses themselves “premised on anti-Semitic lies”, pointing to one called “The Settler Colonial Determinants of Health”, and noted that lecturers invited to speak at the campus included some who peddled in blood libels that Israelis harvest Palestinians’ organs or that the IDF uses Palestinian children for weapons testing. 

“The mountain of proof at Harvard revealed a reality in which Jewish students’ access to their own university (classes, teachers, libraries, dining halls, public spaces, shared student experiences) was directly compromised,” Horn writes.  The alumni’s legal action comes alongside another lawsuit filed by six current Harvard students on January 10, claiming that the university has not done enough to combat antisemitism on campus which had become a “bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment.” It also comes a day after a professor at the university, Walter Johnson, resigned from two anti-Zionist campus groups after they posted antisemitic cartoons.

The post Harvard Alumni File Lawsuit Claiming Campus Antisemitism ‘Devalues’ Their Diplomas first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Israel Not Budging After Eurovision Disapproval of Song Commemorating October 7

Eden Alene, winner of the reality show “The Next Star to Eurovision,” during finals in Neve Ilan studio near Jerusalem on Feb. 4, 2020. Photo: Shlomi Cohen/Flash90.

Israeli Culture Minister Miki Zohar sent the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) a letter on Thursday urging them to approve Israel’s submission to the Eurovision song competition, after the EBU called it “too political.”

“As you know, the State of Israel is experiencing one of the most difficult and complex periods since its establishment. We lost our loved ones, and there are women, men and children who are still held captive by a terrorist organization,” Zohar said.

Israeli media reported that the broadcasting union would not approve the song, called “October Rain,” after a number of countries even issued threats to boycott the event if Israel participates. The EBU issued a statement saying “We are currently in the process of carefully examining the lyrics of the song – a process that is confidential between the EBU and the Public Broadcasting Corporation until a final decision is made. To all broadcasters, they have until March 11th to officially submit their songs. If a song does not meet the criteria for any reason, the corporation will be given the opportunity to submit a new song or new lyrics, according to the contest rules.”

“The song that Israel sent to the Eurovision Song Contest was chosen by a professional committee made up of well-known names in the local music and entertainment industry,” Zohar added. “It is a moving song, discussing renewal and revival from a very fragile reality of loss and destruction, and describes the current public mood in Israel these days. We see now most clearly because our lives – as one, united society – manage to overcome even the greatest suffering. This is not a political song.”

Despite the news that the song by Israeli singer Eden Golan would not be approved, The CEO of KAN, Israel’s national broadcasting service, and the body that approves the song, Golan Yokhpaz, said “We will not change the words or the song, even at the cost of Israel not participating in Eurovision this year.” Adding “The Israel Broadcasting Corporation (KAN) is in dialogue with the EBU regarding the song that will represent Israel at Eurovision.”

Zohar said later in a television interview “The songwriters, KAN, and the singer will have to make the decisions at the end of the day… I do think that Israel should participate in Eurovision because it is important for us at this time to be represented there, and to express ourselves throughout Europe.”

Speaking to the EBU, he said, “We trust that you will continue in your important task of keeping the competition free from any attempt at political manipulation.”

The post Israel Not Budging After Eurovision Disapproval of Song Commemorating October 7 first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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UN Representative to the Palestinians Claims Israelis Are ‘Colonialists’ with ‘Fake Identities’

UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine Francesca Albanese, October 27, 2022 (Photo: Screenshot)

The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur to the Occupied Palestinian Territories referred to Israelis as “colonialists” who have “fake identities” while quoting another Twitter/X account on Wednesday, raising questions about the impartiality of the international body.

Francesca Albanese responded to a long post by Alon Mizrahi, a far-left activist, arguing that the reason many Western nations support Israel is that they are colonial projects. 

She highlighted the following quote from Mizrahi: “free Palestine scares them [Westerners] bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities.”

” free Palestine scares them bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities..” https://t.co/N1wkOPgKJs

— Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur oPt (@FranceskAlbs) February 21, 2024

The original post claimed that “All colonial powers work together to guarantee the supremacy of made-up identities over genuine, native ones. Because if this model breaks anywhere, it will collapse everywhere.”

Mizrahi argued that “A Palestinian state would be a major, major moral blow to white, Western colonialism.”

The tweet was met with immediate condemnation.

David Friedman, who served as the US Ambassador to Israel from 2017 to 2021 under former President Donald Trump wrote that her tweet was “Exhibit A why the UN is a failure and why we no longer belong in that bastion of hypocrisy and corruption.”

An account documenting Hamas’ October 7 atrocities asked, “If Israel is indeed a ‘colonialist project’ Where should all the Israelis go if this project should be dismantled?”

The perception of UN bias against Israel has also been boosted by the fact that, in 2023, Israel was condemned twice as often as all other countries combined.

It is not the first time Albanese has made comments that raise eyebrows. Earlier this month, in response to French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron calling the October 7 attack “largest anti-Semitic massacre of the 21st century,” she said “No, Mr. Macron. The victims of October 7 were not killed because of their Judaism, but in response to Israel’s oppression.”

Following backlash, she wrote that she opposes “all racism, including anti-Semitism, a global threat. But explaining these crimes as anti-Semitism obscures their true cause.”

Hamas’ founding charter, in a section about the “universality” of its cause, reads: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”

Albanese has also argued that Israel should make peace with Hamas, saying that “It needs to make peace with Hamas in order to not be threatened by Hamas.” 

When asked about what people do not understand about Hamas, she added, “If someone violates your right to self-determination, you are entitled to embrace resistance.”

The post UN Representative to the Palestinians Claims Israelis Are ‘Colonialists’ with ‘Fake Identities’ first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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