Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Asia Watch: Business Interests

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Michael Shannon


While there is no imminent prospect of Indonesia establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, Jakarta’s longstanding political stance is no impediment to a burgeoning commercial relationship with the Jewish state.

It has now emerged that an Israeli business delegation has visited Indonesia to forge closer business ties. Israel’s Ynet News and the Jakarta Post reported that the mission comprised representatives of eight Israeli companies and was organised by the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute and the Industry, Trade and Labour Ministry’s commercial attaché in Singapore.

The delegation was hosted by Indonesia’s Chamber of Commerce (Kadin), the umbrella organisation that incorporates all registered businesses in Indonesia. The visit reciprocated Kadin’s mission to Israel in 2006.

An interesting point of note is that the visit was only reported after it had occurred. Sensitivities on the Indonesian side about direct contact with anything Israeli are acute and persistent. The Jakarta Post reported on Aug. 7 that neither officials from the Indonesian Foreign Ministry nor Kadin executives were willing to discuss the Israeli delegation’s visit.

Israel’s commercial attaché in Singapore, Anat Katz, was more forthcoming, describing the challenge of developing business ties between countries without diplomatic relations as “huge”.

“In the past three years, we have focused on building the infrastructure for the creation of direct relations between business people on both sides, relations which are permitted by law in both countries. This infrastructure includes creating ties with key officials on the Indonesian side, while setting in motion a process of hiring advisers working under the embassy’s commercial department and helping Israeli companies with their activities in Indonesia,” Katz told Ynet.

Following on from the visit, the Israeli trade publication Port to Port reported that the Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce is setting up an Israel-Indonesia bilateral chamber of commerce in an effort to boost bilateral ties. Emanuel Shahaf, CEO of Technology Asia Consulting Ltd. was elected as the inaugural chairman.

The volume of trade between Israel and Indonesia stood at US$47.8 million in the first half of 2009 – a 60% drop compared to the same period last year.

It has also emerged that Israel opened a small trade office in Jakarta on Aug. 15. As expected, this development was not greeted favourably by Islamist activists.

“Everyday we hear about terrorism or bombing in the news whereas the Israelis have just opened an office in Jakarta and this did not make the news,” said Munarman, head of a group called the Komando Laskar Islam (KLI) or Islamic Commando Force, which plans to halt trade relations between Israel and Indonesia and force the closure of the trade office. “The office will become the Mossad’s office in Jakarta,” he claimed.

Muhammad al-Khathath from the Forum Umat Islam (FUI) told Detik.com that his organisation is urging the authorities to close the Israeli trade office and end all commercial relations with Israel in order to “stem Zionist domination in Indonesia.”

The condemnation was not universal, however. An Aug. 23 article in the Jakarta Globe, a new English-language daily, by veteran journalist Taufik Darusman (brother of former Attorney-General Marzuki Darusman) called for new thinking on the question of Israeli ties.

Noting the absurdity of protests over an Israeli trade office when Indonesia has rampant corruption, poor health care and “terrorists running around the country blowing up hotels and killing innocent people”, Darusman recalled the statements of former President Abdurrahman Wahid in favour of establishing diplomatic relations and the back-channel military procurements pursued under Suharto, who resented the lack of support from Middle Eastern and African countries in the UN over the East Timor question.

His conclusion is worth quoting in full:

In an increasingly interconnected world, it is absolutely odd, if not bizarre, for us to continue to fail to acknowledge Israel, one of the few countries that recognised Indonesia’s independence early on.

As terrorism is practiced here by Muslim militants, and funds to underwrite it are said to come from the Middle East, it may be time for us to review our lists of friends and enemies. Israel’s experience with terrorists and its remarkable intelligence could be useful, and could complement our own efforts.

If it’s too early to consider Israel a friend of Indonesia, it is not too early to delete the country from our list of enemies. Our enemy, in fact, is within our own borders.

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