Invitation for rabbi to Bali interreligious forum draws controversy in Indonesia

A press conference on the upcoming Religion 20 on Sept. 5, 2022. Photo: Obtained.
A press conference on the upcoming Religion 20 on Sept. 5, 2022. Photo: Obtained.

An invitation extended by Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest grassroots Muslim organization, to Argentinian Rabbi Silvina Chemen to the Religion 20 (R20) forum in Bali next month has been met with criticism.

R20 is an international inter-religion forum scheduled to be held on Nov. 2 and Nov. 3 in Nusa Dua. As one of the side events of the prestigious G20 Summit – also to be held next month – R20 aims to see 160 international religious figures come together. 

Chemen’s attendance was confirmed by R20 chairman Ahmad Suaedy and by PBNU Vice Secretary-General Najib Azca in late September.

Chemen’s planned attendance recently triggered conservative groups in the Muslim-majority nation, with pamphlets reportedly spread by the Madura Ulema Alliance (MUA) calling for Muslim leaders to reject her visit.

A representative of the Jakarta chapter of PBNU, Muzakki Kholish, criticized the pamphlets, saying that MUA should be open for interreligious dialogue.

Muzakki reiterated that R20’s mission is to promote peace and find solutions toward conflicts, such as those in the Middle East.

“Because the mission of a religion, whatever the religion is, be it Judaism, Islam, and so on, is peace,” he said.

Negative sentiments toward Jewish people in Indonesia have been recorded for decades, with the main factor being the Muslim-majority nation’s staunch support for Palestine. Indonesia does not recognize Israel, and the two nations have no formal diplomatic ties.

Read also: Bali may host Israeli soccer team for U-20 World Cup next year

It should be noted that Silvina Chemen holds an Argentinian passport and thus is eligible to visit Indonesia. The female rabbi has a reputation for being open-minded and keeps friendly relations with other religious followers, including by sending Christmas greetings and preparing supper for her Muslim friends during the fasting month of Ramadan.

In 2018, the Buenos Aires University scholar was declared an Outstanding Figure in the field of Human Rights by the Buenos Aires City Legislature.


Support local news and join a community of like-minded
“Coconauts” across Southeast Asia and Hong Kong.

Join Now
Coconuts TV
Our latest and greatest original videos
Subscribe on