In Indonesia, Jews Must Keep a Low Profile

Home to a Jewish community of about 3,000 on the eve of World War II, Indonesia now is thought to have a mere 200 Jews; only one synagogue remains in use. Olivia Rondonuwu writes:

In [the city of] Tondano, the Shaar Hashamayim synagogue sits close to several churches and residents of different religions live, work, and worship alongside each other without incident.

Indonesia has long been praised for its moderate, inclusive brand of Islam—and this enclave of diversity is a testament to that. But across the archipelago, intolerance has risen in recent years as more conservative forms of Islam have become popular, driven by increasingly vocal hardline groups.

Tensions in the Middle East, particularly between Israel and the Palestinians, spill over here and deepen religious divides. Outside the safe haven on the island of Sulawesi [where the synagogue is located], those who refuse to hide their faith have faced hostility. Yaakov Baruch, an Orthodox Jew who runs the Tondano synagogue, revealed how he was threatened with death in a busy Jakarta mall as he walked along with his pregnant wife [while wearing a kippah]. . . . Faced with such open hostility, the Jews in [Jakarta] worship in secret. . . .

Christian churches and mosques where Muslim minorities pray have been closed due to pressure from hardliners. Shiites and Ahmadis—regarded as heretics by some Sunnis—have been forced from their homes in mob attacks and on occasion even killed. . . . Due to their small number and the fact most live in the shadows, the nation’s Jews have not been a major focus of radical Islamic anger in Indonesia and have largely escaped the serious attacks directed at other minorities.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Anti-Semitism, Indonesia, Indonesian Jewry, Jewish World

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy