Islamic hard-liners in Indonesia are calling for the closure of the country's only synagogue as a protest to Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip. Protesters enraged by Israel's three-week-long operation in Gaza marched to the synagogue's gates chanting, "Go to hell, Israel!" The only Jewish religious site in the world's most populous Muslim state - which has no rabbi and only a few followers - then closed its doors.
Across Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan, sentiments are running high about the conflict, fueled by disturbing TV footage of Palestinian casualties. "This is the way to show our solidarity for the Palestinian people and to condemn the Israeli attacks," said Abdusshomad Buchori, a local leader of the Ulema Council, which is pushing for the permanent closure of Beth Hashem synagogue in Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city. "If Israel refuses to stop its attacks and oppression of the Palestinian people, we don't need to defend [the synagogue's] presence here," said Buchori, who led about 100 hard-liners to the synagogue, where they burned an Israeli flag.
The woman who has run the synagogue since the 1970s went underground after the Jan. 7 incident, in which Buchori also threatened to drive any remaining Jews out of town.
The incident was not unique: An outlet of the American fried chicken chain KFC was shut on Sulawesi island after protesters upset with Washington's Middle East policies hurled chairs and overturned tables. And thousands have rallied in the capital, Jakarta, waving Palestinian flags and shouting insults outside the U.S. Embassy.
"The Israeli attacks against Palestine and Lebanon have resulted in increased anti-Semitism," said Hendardi, chairman of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, a human rights group. Like many Indonesians, he uses a single name.
The government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, which is seeking re-election in April, donated millions of dollars in aid, sent doctors and humanitarian workers to Gaza and offered peacekeepers - moves that could win votes.
Smaller radical groups seeking to create an Indonesian Muslim state staged publicity stunts where they claimed to be signing up martyrs for a jihad, or holy war, to combat Israeli troops.
Despite the calls for volunteers and a message from Osama bin Laden urging Muslims to fight in Gaza, there are no known cases of Indonesians leaving to defend the Palestinians.
Emotions have nonetheless been stirred by the media coverage. One Indonesian broadcaster, tvOne, has been running ads showing footage of Palestinian parents weeping over dead children under the heading, "Tears for Palestine."
The vast majority of Indonesia's Muslims practice a moderate form of the faith and do not advocate violence against Israelis, but they support the creation of a Palestinian state. Jakarta hosts a Palestinian embassy but has no political links with Israel.
PRI's The World broadcast a radio interview with an aspiring Indonesian jihadi. He described having to fill out several forms to apply to become an official jihadi. One of the requirements he discussed was that his wife and parents grant their approval in writing.
And in Malaysia...
Malaysian leaders called for a boycott of iconic American brands like McDonald's and Coca-Cola, and pro-Palestinian charities and newspapers have collected millions of dollars in aid. Lawmakers sharply criticized Israel's use of force in a six-hour-long debate and tens of thousands of people held prayer sessions for Palestinians. The conflict is a topic of heated discussion across Malaysia.