Why Did Jewish Group Give Award to Indonesian Blamed for Fanning Hatred?

Rights Advocates Slam Arthur Schneier's Honor for President

Look Like Tolerance? An Indonesian girl walks through the ruins of a church in Bakasi that was destroyed on orders of the local government.
getty images
Look Like Tolerance? An Indonesian girl walks through the ruins of a church in Bakasi that was destroyed on orders of the local government.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published May 21, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Indonesian human rights activists are protesting an American Jewish organization’s plans to honor Indonesia’s president with an award for religious freedom — a freedom that human rights monitors say has sharply deteriorated under his rule.

The annual award, given by Rabbi Arthur Schneier’s Appeal of Conscience Foundation, has no significant profile in the United States. But in Indonesia, Schneier’s decision to honor President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been the subject of street protests, newspaper articles and angry statements by major national figures.

“He has laid down the legal infrastructure of the discrimination against religious minorities,” said Andreas Harsono, a Jakarta-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, of Yudhoyono.

Arthur Schneier
Arthur Schneier

According to recent HRW reports, persecution against religious minorities, including non-Sunni Muslims and Christians, has burgeoned under the current president’s leadership. A recent U.S. State Department report faulted the Indonesian government for failing to protect religious minorities.

The Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an interfaith group that bills itself as promoting religious freedom, said in a statement that the award to Yudhoyono is “an encouragement to advance human rights, religious freedom and interreligious cooperation.”

A representative for the Indonesian Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

Schneier’s decision to bestow the religious freedom award on the Indonesian president has been the subject of headlines in seven Indonesian newspapers in recent days. Representatives of the Ahmadiyya and Shia communities, minority Muslim groups that have suffered persecution in Indonesia, issued statements condemning the award. Protesters gathered outside the American Embassy in Jakarta on May 6 to oppose the award, and rights groups have scheduled a press conference on May 23 in Jakarta to condemn the award.

“How come they did not ask the Indonesian people’s opinion before they decided to give Yudhoyono the award?” asked the Rev. Franz Magnis-Suseno, a major Indonesian Catholic figure, according to an Indonesian press report.

Schneier, spiritual leader of the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan, a Modern Orthodox congregation, has developed a reputation for high-profile interfaith dialogue. Pope Benedict XVI visited his congregation in 2008, marking the first time a pope visited a synagogue in the United States. Schneier founded the Appeal of Conscience Foundation in 1965 and serves as its president.

Schneier did not respond to a request for comment beyond the one issued by his group.

The foundation is set to give Yudhoyono its World Statesman Award May 30 at a dinner to be held at the Pierre Hotel in New York. Previous recipients include Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Though Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority country in the world, its citizens are religiously diverse. Most of the country’s Muslims are Sunni, but there are substantial communities of Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslims. The country also has large Christian, Hindu and Buddhist populations, among others.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.