Indonesian Ambassador to Australia, His Excellency Primo Alui Joelianto: Q&A session notes
· The main challenge for Indonesia is that there are so many ethnic groups, religions and tribes which are dispersed among Indonesia’s more than 17,000 islands. It is no easy feat to achieve unity.
· The role of the Ministry of Religious Affairs is to coordinate religious life. It is essential that this task is undertaken by the government otherwise there is a danger that the majority would have a stranglehold over religious life.
· Israeli representatives cannot attend interfaith dialogue initiatives in Indonesia as Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. Israeli citizens may use alternative passports to enter Indonesia. In response to the question that should not religion be above politics – and therefore Israelis should be permitted to gain entry for the purpose of interfaith dialogue – the Ambassador responded that this would be unacceptable to the people of Indonesia.
· The reasons Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel are:
o The Indonesian Constitution specifically states that colonialism and imperialism is against humanity and Israel is an occupying country; and
o Most Indonesians are Muslims and therefore align themselves with the Palestinians – their solidarity is with the Palestinians who are being oppressed.
· In response to a question why it is not okay to have diplomatic relations with Israel but to accept aid from Israel (e.g. post-2004 Tsunami) the Ambassador stated that the aid was received due to practical reasons – pros and cons were examined and ultimately a decision was made to accept the aid.
· One of the reasons of Islamic radicalisation in Indonesia is that many young students travel to other countries for their studies (e.g. Pakistan) and bring back with them a radical form of Islam. This has a multiplying effect within Indonesia. This radicalism is a bad image for Indonesia and Islam, and is an ongoing challenge for the Indonesian government. This is why the government is dedicated to interfaith dialogue – it is an integral aspect of Indonesia’s foreign policy.