Netanyahu holds surprise meeting with visiting Muslim leader

The Israeli prime minister met with an Indonesian leader of 60 million Muslims on Thursday, hoping to improve tense relations between the two nations.

By: World Israel News Staff

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a previously unannounced meeting in Jerusalem on Thursday with Muslim leader Yahya Staquf, a visiting Indonesian cleric.

Staquf serves as secretary general of the 60 million member Nahdlatul Ulama movement, a Sunni sect in Indonesia which is the biggest Muslim organization in the country.

Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country and does not have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. It also remains a bastion of support for the Palestinians and Staquf’s visit to Israel has been met with rancor back home, as evidenced by reactions on Facebook and Twitter.

“Some people here are amazed by my decision to come, because they think it must be dangerous for this man to come, thinking that many, many Muslims must be threatening [me] with death or something,” Staquf told the Associated Press earlier in the week.

Staquf arrived in Israel at the invitation of the American Jewish Committee, which is hosting a large conference in Jerusalem this week. As an advocate of interfaith dialogue, Staquf met this week with a number of religious leaders, representing the Jewish, Chrisian, and Muslim faiths.

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Netanyahu placed the meeting in the context of Israel’s improving relations with other Muslim countries, expressing “hope that we have some movement with Indonesia.”

The comment was also a reference to Indonesia’s recent revocation of tourist visas for Israelis in protest of the IDF’s response to violent rioting in Gaza. Israel responded by threatening to ban Indonesians from receiving tourist visas to visit Israel.