Yesterday in Jakarta, Barack Obama delivered a stirring speech to a throng of Indonesians. Mr. Obama’s fond memories of his four years in Indonesia were sprinkled throughout the talk; it was a human, touching address, which by most accounts was received very positively.
Mr. Obama is keenly aware of the troubled history of the island nation. From its colonial days under the Dutch, to its suffering under the tyrannical regime of Suharto and its massacre of Communists and oppressive occupation of East Timor, to its days of fledgling democracy, to its fight against fundamentalist Islam (remember this attack, this attack, or this group), to the terrible tsunami that devastated Sumatra, Indonesia has had a difficult century.
Mr. Obama is correctly focused on outreach to the moderate Muslim states, and let’s not forget that Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation in the world. The fight against extremist Islam must include allies like Indonesia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, as their existence and citizenry are threatened by the terrorists in their midst. But Mr. Obama’s olive branch to the Indonesians, which I have no problem with, omits a glaring fact, and the following two quotes from his speech display a shocking disregard for reality.
“…while my stepfather, like most Indonesians, was raised a Muslim, he firmly believed that all religions were worthy of respect…in this way he reflected the spirit of religious tolerance that is enshrined in Indonesia’s Constitution, and that remains one of this country’s defining and inspiring characteristics.”
“…Across an archipelago that contains some of God’s most beautiful creations, islands rising above an ocean named for peace, people choose to worship God as they please. Islam flourishes, but so do other faiths.”
Mr. Obama, what about the Jews?
There are currently an estimated twenty Jews living in Indonesia.
Judaism is not one of the six recognized religions of the Indonesian government.
And Israelis are not allowed to enter the country.
It’s politics at play, as usual. What if Israel decided to not allow the practice of Islam or Christianity (like the Saudis have done with other religions in their country) within its borders? What if Israel forbade Arabs from entering the country (like almost every Muslim nation has done to Israelis)? Would there be an uproar? A protest? A United Nations resolution? A cultural or academic boycott? Would Mr. Obama have something to say about it?
In a day and age when we celebrate democracy, freedom, and religious diversity as some of our core principles, it is saddening to see the world continue to validate and ignore the fact that Jews and/or Israelis are still singled out for persecution and/or exclusion in almost every Muslim nation.
But as depressing as that is, stories like Andy Roddick’s refusal to play a tournament in the United Arab Emirates last year due to an Israeli player not being allowed to enter the country to participate does give me hope. And famous Israeli author Etgar Keret got a visa to enter Indonesia earlier this year after some interesting Facebook politics which he recounts in this story from Tablet Magazine.
Sometimes we can find heroes in the unlikeliest of places; Mr. Obama would be well to learn from Roddick’s example. After all, after Roddick stood up to Dubai, Israeli tennis player Andy Ram got a visa.