A Golkar Party lawmaker’s “secret” trip to witness peace talks between Palestine and Israel — a country with no diplomatic ties to Indonesia — has inspired anger in the House of Representatives.
Tantowi Yahya visited the country earlier this month with a group of journalists on an invitation from an Australia-based pro-Israel organization. During his visit, Tantowi met with members of Israel’s parliament (Knesset), as well as academics and government officials. One such meeting, with Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, was reported on the website Israel Hayom, raising alarms in Indonesia.
Ali Machsan Musa, a member of the House’s Ethics Committee, chastised Tantowi for the visit.
“He should not have done that,” Ali said. “Indonesia has no diplomatic ties with Israel.”
House Speaker Marzuki Ali said he wasn’t notified of the trip beforehand. If Tantowi went to Israel on official business, then he clearly violated Indonesia’s diplomatic rules, Marzuki said.
“I don’t want to say whether or not he is guilty,” he said. “Let the Ethics Committee decide.”
A report has not been filed with the Ethics Committee, Ali said.
National Mandate Party (PAN) lawmaker Muhammad Najib piled on the attack, stating that Tantowi’s visit did not represent the interests of the House Commission I, which oversees defense and international relations.
“There have never been any discussions in Commission I to send a member to Israel,” Najib said. “Indonesia does not admit Israel’s existence diplomatically.”
Official relations between the two countries remain rocky. Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa was denied entry to Israel to attend a meeting of Non-Aligned Movement ministers in the West Bank last August. The rejection, which Marty called a “badge of honor,” only re-enforced the country’s official stance on Israel, he said.
Indonesia has refused to establish diplomatic ties with Israel until the country allows an independent Palestine. But this stance hasn’t stopped Indonesian officials from visiting Israel, or put a damper on trade ties.
The two nations set up a chamber of commerce to facilitate trade in 2009, settling on the unassuming name the “Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce.” Indonesia booked $750 million in trade in 2008, and $450 million in 2009, despite failing to officially recognize the country, according to reports in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
A top representative of Indonesia’s highest security council visited Tel Aviv in November of 2012 for a government-sponsored conference on homeland security, Haaretz reported. The unnamed Indonesian official — a guest of the Israeli government — wandered the conference without a badge, the newspaper reported.
Former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid once expressed an interest in establishing cozier ties between the countries, but current sentiment in Indonesia is far less civil. Mahfudz Shiddiq, the head of the House Commission I, once called on the world to isolate the “Israeli imperialist regime.”
Tantowi, meanwhile, was unapologetic of his visit.
When asked about the controversy, Tantowi, a part-time country music singer, responded “I think my visit was very beneficial.”