Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Asia Watch: Stormy Seas

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Michael Shannon


Stormy Seas

As elsewhere, the Israeli military confrontation of activists aboard the Freedom Flotilla’s MV Mavi Marmara on May 31 put Israel at the centre of fiery rhetoric in Southeast Asia over recent weeks.

In Indonesia, demonstrations were staged in Jakarta and regional cities over several days. Amongst the action, some 1,000 Hezb ut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) members staged a rally outside the US Embassy in Jakarta on June 1 admonishing the US for its close alliance with Israel and for supposedly doing nothing to stop the violent confrontation.

The protesters unfurled a number of banners which, among others, read “Wipe Out Israel,” “Reject Obama,” and “Send Troops to Palestine”.

HTI speaker Salman al-Farisi told the crowd Obama was Israel’s ally and therefore, he did not deserve to visit Indonesia, a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause. In any event, President Obama’s visit to Indonesia has been postponed once again due to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Twelve Indonesians were among the activists on the “Freedom Flotilla”, two of whom were injured in the confrontation. Their eventual return to Indonesia was hailed at the highest levels, with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono receiving four members of the Indonesian Committee for Palestine Solidarity (KISPA) at the Presidential Palace and describing them as “humanitarian heroes”.

KISPA leader Ferry Nur told the President that the Israelis had treated them badly during their detainment and urged the government not to establish diplomatic ties with Israel, asking Yudhoyono to use Indonesia’s position at the global level to “ensure that Israel cannot destroy al-Aqsa and build a synagogue on its ruins … The President responded to the proposal well,” Ferry said.

Speaking at a meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa condemned Israel for “its latest heinous and cowardly act”, but then declared simple condemnation would not affect Israeli policy. He called for redoubled efforts to “ensure progress in the peace process leading to… an independent and viable Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel.”

It’s not clear whether this aim will be helped by Indonesia finding common cause with neighbouring Malaysia in pledging to seek international support to press charges on Israel for the raid on the Mavi Marmara. Their respective foreign ministers, Natalegawa and Malaysia’s Anifah Aman met on June 17, with the latter proclaiming, “We are looking for a lead to seek justice at the International Court of Justice or through any other avenue.”

If anything, the rhetoric was more heated on the Malaysian side. In a rare display of unity across the political divide, Malaysian parliamentarians unanimously passed a motion strongly condemning the Israeli Government.

Prime Minister Najib Razak and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim competed to express the maximum outrage. Najib didn’t hesitate before calling for the world to condemn the “cruel regime” as “world gangsters”, while Anwar dubbed Israel’s raid a “brutal act” and organised a protest in which the crowd burned Israeli flags and posters of PM Binyamin Netanyahu.

The 12 Malaysians on board the Mavi Marmara returned as heroes and were similarly feted at the highest levels. PM Najib pledged the government would try to seek compensation from the Israeli Government for the trauma and “mental torture” suffered by the returnees, a seemingly impossible task given Malaysia refuses any diplomatic relationship with Israel.

Among those welcoming them home was former prime minister Dr. Mahathir Mohammed, now the chairman of Perdana Global Peace Organisation (PGPO), an NGO that raised US$368,000 for the Free Gaza movement – the largest single donation, which was used to buy three ships in the Gaza flotilla, the Associated Press reported.

Dr. Mahathir was characteristically blunt in his comments, declaring that the Gaza mission had succeeded in exposing Israeli “atrocities” to the world. “Although we were not able to send the aid to Gaza, on one hand we succeeded in exposing to the world how bad Israel is.”

Yet even Dr. Mahathir was criticised for alleged Israeli/Jewish links by a leading Opposition PKR figure, Badrul Hisham Shaharin, for approving (as prime minister) a Malaysian Coca-Cola plant, alleging the multinational giant to be a “Jewish company” and that the decision “further strengthens the financial position of Jews.”

It’s allegations like this from the PKR and its leader Anwar – most prominently during the APCO affair in which the government was accused of engaging a “Jewish” political consultancy firm and allowing the national police headquarters to be infiltrated by “Israeli spies” – that earned Anwar a black mark from the B’nai B’rith in the US. In a letter dated May 25 to US Foreign Relations Senate Committee, B’nai B’rith International declared Anwar “a threat” to the Jews.

“Anwar should not be accorded the honour and respect which he now receives as a result of his good relations with the US,” said B’nai B’rith President Dennis W. Glick. “His attack on Najib is tainted with lies and anti-Jewish and anti-Israel semantics,” the letter said. “We ask Washington to terminate all relations with Anwar.”

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