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New York Rabbi’s Awful Award

Why is a Jewish group dedicated to tolerance honoring a politician who has failed to support religious minorities?

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Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono listens to a remark by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard at a meeting on July 3, 2012, in Darwin, Australia. (Glenn Campbell-Pool/Getty Images)

On May 30, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, the leader of Manhattan’s Park East Synagogue and founder of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, plans to give the World Statesmen Award to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The award is given annually to world leaders who support the foundation’s mission to promote tolerance and respect for human rights. Previous award recipients include Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But this year’s choice is bizarre. Not only has Yudhoyono not fought intolerance in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country and home to millions of religious minorities, he has actively courted Islamist political parties and granted them key Cabinet positions. He appointed as government minister a politician who blames Christians for their persecution and routinely calls for heterodox Muslim sects to be outlawed. As a result, acts of violence against religious minorities have risen dramatically during his eight years in office. Christian churches in West Java and North Sumatra have been forced to close due to discrimination in the issuing of building permits. Minority Shi’ite Muslims have been forced from their homes by militant Islamists and made refugees in areas where they lived peacefully for decades. Most alarming is the militants’ 10-year campaign of violence against a heterodox Muslim sect called Ahmadiyah; vigilante groups have destroyed Ahmadis’ homes, set fire to their mosques, forced their relocation, and murdered Ahmadi Muslims with the tacit and sometimes outright approval of the government. Just this week, Yudhyono’s religious affairs minister oversaw the forced conversion of 20 Ahmadi Muslims.

“It would be hard to choose a more inappropriate person to whom a religious tolerance organization would give an award,”  said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The simple fact is this: Persecution of minority Christian, Shia, Ahmadiya, Bahá’í has been worsening under President Yudhoyono’s watch, in particular in the last two years.”

Rather than standing up for minority rights, Yudhoyono has sought to appease Islamists. His 2008 decree threatened five years in jail to anyone who “propagates” the Ahmadiyah teaching, stopping just short of the outright ban that Islamists demanded. Instead of guaranteeing Christians the ability to build new churches, Yudhoyono has issued even more restrictive administrative regulations and ignored Supreme Court rulings that sought to protect religious freedom. Furthermore, instead of trying to roll back authoritarian-era laws that limit government recognition to six orthodox religions, Yudhoyono defended the laws on the grounds that restrictions on minorities are necessary for peaceful coexistence. These actions send a message to Indonesians that it is OK to be intolerant toward minorities and have encouraged Islamist vigilantes to use violence.

What’s worse, this abysmal track record is apparent to anyone with access to the Internet. Human Rights Watch has issued dozens of reports and press releases calling on the government to fight intolerance, including calls by members of Yudhoyono’s Cabinet. Every week, the English-language newspaper The Jakarta Post chronicles the plight of Ahmadi Muslims forced from their homes with the tacit or outright approval of local mayors. In the past year, the New York Times has published two op-eds (here and here) lamenting the rise in intolerance under Yudhoyono. The most cursory Internet search turns up dozens of articles documenting Yudhoyono’s failure to safeguard Indonesia’s history of peaceful coexistence.

The proposed award to Yudhoyono has sparked equal parts confusion and outrage in Jakarta. A prominent Catholic priest said the award is “playing in the hands of those few radicals that want to purify Indonesia of all what they regard as heresies and heathens.” An interfaith coalition of Christians, Shi’ite Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims, and human rights organizations said the award provides the justification for acts of intolerance and mounted a peaceful protest in front of the U.S. embassy. A coalition of organizations representing atheists and ethical humanists called the award “a slap in the face to prisoners of conscience across the world.” A petition to Rabbi Arthur Schneier to withdraw the award has garnered over 1,700 signatures from Australia, the United States, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Japan, and around the globe. Most worrisome to the signatories is that the award will further bolster the forces of intolerant Islamists that they are trying to fight.

So, why is Schneier planning to honor Yudhoyono? Numerous calls, emails, Tweets, and posts to his organization’s Facebook page have gone answered. But it is worth noting that Yudhoyono is considered by some to be a “moderate Muslim”—which in his case means that he has not demonized Israel in the U.N. General Assembly. And perhaps the Appeal of Conscience Foundation failed to consult anyone in Indonesia about Yudhoyono’s domestic track record or even do a modicum of research into Yudhoyono’s international record—thus overlooking, for example, his recent speech at the U.N. in support of a controversial international ban on religious blasphemy. The alternative—that Schneier knew of Yudhoyono’s track record but was more concerned with increasing his visibility on the world stage than with the human rights of religious minorities in the world’s fourth-largest country—is almost too disheartening to consider.

By giving this award to Yudhoyono, Schneier is actively whitewashing the failures of his government while strengthening Islamist militants who are trying to marginalize religious minorities. Bestowing the award would be an insult to the millions of Indonesians who are trying to promote tolerance, pluralism, and human rights in their fragile democracy. There is still time for the Appeal of Conscience Foundation to remedy its mistake. Schneier should stand in solidarity with the victims of religious persecution in Indonesia and not only revoke Yudhoyono’s award, but press him to take steps to actually promote freedom in Indonesia.


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When our leader Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono accept the Jews
Rabbi Arthur Schneier, the leader of Manhattan’s Park East Synagogue and founder of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation. You will see that Indonesia be blessed of our Lord Jesus Christ. Who bless the Jews shall be blessed by the Lord Jesus Christ.

“…which in his case means that he has not demonized Israel in the U.N. General Assembly.” There you go.

Jeremy Gross says:

The award is an utter disgrace. It should be noted that the president take no action against acts of violence towards groups promoting religious harmony and tolerance, such as in his lack of reaction to the pro-pluralism rally at Jakarta’s National Monument, June 1, 2008, perpetrated by the Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI), let alone sanction HIS cabinet ministers when they both make remarks of crass ignorance (women in jeans are the cause of earthquakes) or condone the acts of violence and intolerance, such as his Minister of Religion, who has openly endorsed a leading FPI member to become a candidate for his PPP political party despite the brutality and fatalities caused by FPI acts of violence, intolerance and hatred. And of course, there have been no comments from the president about the religious-inspired bigotry that has seen groups acting in the name of religion smash up events being held by the lesbian and gay communities in Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Surabaya.
All this award is doing is increasing dislike and distrust of Jews by the tolerant and open-minded Indonesians as they look in disbelief at Jewish approval of discrimination, intimidation and violence against minorities. This ignorant rabbi should be ignored as an irrelevance by the world in the same way as it should have ignored that nutter freak of a pastor who was in favour of Koran burning.

    nicydunegev says:

    мy ɴeιɢнвor’ѕ ѕтep-αυɴт мαĸeѕ $68 αɴ нoυr oɴ тнe lαpтop. ѕнe нαѕ вeeɴ ғιred ғroм worĸ ғor ɴιɴe мoɴтнѕ вυт lαѕт мoɴтн нer ιɴcoмe wαѕ $1628З jυѕт worĸιɴɢ oɴ тнe lαpтop ғor α ғew нoυrѕ. reαd мore oɴ тнιѕ ѕιтe Zap2­2­.c­o&shym&shy

ott198089 says:

It makes you wonder if the liberal Jewish establishment leaders like Rabbi Schneier are rational people, because there’s no other way to explain the decision to wine and dine the leader of the country where Antisemitism and bigotry are institutionalized, and the best one can say about Mr. Yudhoyono is that he personally refrains from actively encouraging the Islamic intolerance.

ETAN says:

Thanks for mentioning our petition. We hope readers will join us in opposing the award by signing it:

Let’s clarify: Why is an AMERICAN Jewish group bending over backwards to honor a politician who can’t stand them or Israel?

aaaand noone in my country called this award as ‘haram’. It’s a miracle.

They usually goes crazy if hear something like, ‘rabbi’, ‘jewish’, ‘america’, ‘israel’ and they will labeled it as ‘haram’

I find this article too harsh on SBY. From what I understand, good Indonesians, who are tolerant and enlightened, think the president is trying to make the best out of a complex country. They may think he is not decisive enough and not always right, but he makes an effort to push the country towards the open and democratic values it deserves.

But he does not govern alone, and cannot be blamed for everything that goes wrong in a country of 240 million people that has just emerged from dictatorship. I will make no judgement whether he deserves the award, but blaming him for religious intolerance does not seem right.

    Chen Chen Muthahari says:

    because he did nothing for all the violence and just say, “I am sad about it”, doing nothing and get an award, whew!!!

    Prihatin Indonesia says:

    He is the leader and he did nothing to protect the minority … he’d let the extrimist Islamist do what ever they want to do .. even to kill the minority !

DavRPeters says:

Maybe they figure that if they treat this clod as civilized, he will act civilized. Fat chance. Or maybe they are breaking in their new kneepads.

Once again we condemn a leader for his domestic policies without regard to what may be unleashed if more liberal policies were practiced. It is important that the leader of the most populous Moslem country does not support or participate in anti-Israel actions in the UN and elsewhere.

There is plenty to put right at home before we tell other countries how to run themselves.

JJ Gross says:

Maybe Revered Schneier Sr is fed up with being upstaged by his equally egocentric, and equally self-serving son in the hug-a Muslim department, so he seized this opportunity to get some badly-needed publicity for himself. As PT Barnum said, “so long as they spell my name right”

NM Oscar says:

I just want to know what the Rabbi Schneier’s answers on all protests aimed at the awards for SBY.

Hendra Tanumihardja says:

A flattery?


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New York Rabbi’s Awful Award

Why is a Jewish group dedicated to tolerance honoring a politician who has failed to support religious minorities?

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