A populous, Muslim-majority nation, Indonesia, like much of Southeast Asia, has long been home to a large ethnic Chinese population that has been subjected to periodic outbursts of violence. The island nation is also home to roughly 200 Jews and a great deal of anti-Semitic sentiment. To Blake Smith, these two threads are connected:
[I]n 1740, . . . economic tensions between Chinese workers and [Dutch] colonial soldiers spilled over into violence. The colonial government responded with the systematic killing of the Chinese population of Batavia (now Jakarta), their headquarters on the island of Java. Some 10,000 people died.
The violence of the Dutch colonial state was rooted in a widespread belief that Chinese communities of Indonesia were “like the Jews.” Applying anti-Semitic stereotypes forged in early modern Europe to the Chinese of Southeast Asia, European travelers and colonial officials of the period often remarked that the Chinese “like Jews” were “tricksters” bent on robbing both the Dutch and native people. This strategic conflation of anti-Semitism and anti-Chinese prejudice was politically useful as the Dutch consolidated control of the archipelago. Crushing local powers and traditional elites that had long ruled the area, they insisted that it was not they but the Chinese who were the real foreign oppressors. The colonists, then, could pose as protectors of “true Indonesians.”
One of the most bitter critics of the Chinese, the Dutch colonial official Dirk van Hogendorp, proposed in the early 19th century that these “bloodsuckers” and “parasites,” whom he compared to “the Jews here in Europe,” should be subject to onerous taxes in order to encourage their emigration. Many echoed his sentiments. The historian Nicolaas Godfried van Kampen wrote in 1833, for example, that the Chinese were “Jews of the East,” who “thwarted and obstructed” Indonesian progress. Later in the 19th century, an association of colonial plantation owners used anti-Semitic clichés against their Chinese competitors, saying that the local Chinese were “as bad” as German Jews who exploited peasants and workers. Such views were shared by British and French officials in their own nearby colonies.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the conflation of Chinese and Jews had spread widely throughout Southeast Asia and [among] its leaders. . . . After a two-decade lull since the 1998 riots, anti-Chinese sentiment is returning to Indonesia along with a revival of its old companion, anti-Semitism. . . .
As Niruban Balachandran notes in a rejoinder to Smith, the ADL’s most recent survey gave Indonesia a 48-percent anti-Semitism score—which, at least, is less than neighboring Malaysia’s 61 percent.