Indonesia’s visa-free policy for Israel doesn’t get stamp of approval from public.
In late December 2015, the Indonesian government granted 84 countries visa-free access to the country. With those additions, the number of countries with visa-free access increases to 131.
The policy taken by the government in Jakarta is not an uncommon one. Some countries around the world have made similar moves, including China and developed nations such as Japan. Visa-free access can boost the number of tourists visiting the country.
According to the data from the Indonesian government, three months after the government decided to add to the number of countries with visa-free access, there has been an increase in the number of international tourists by 19 per cent. Before this, growth only ranged from six to eight per cent.
It is not difficult to comprehend the government’s decision. However, a problem arose when the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Rizal Ramli listed Israel as one the countries that would receive free access to Indonesia — a country which Indonesia has publicly denounced, though has secretly maintained a strong relationship with.
A few hours after the data was released, vigorous criticisms and denunciations towards the government’s decision began to appear. The issue became highly scrutinised by almost every segment of Indonesian society. For years, Israel has come under fire from the majority of Indonesia’s population due to its policy towards the Palestinians.
Scrutiny not only came from the country’s Islamic organisations, but also from parliamentary members who cautioned the government in giving visa waivers for the Israelis.
Due to increasing pressure, Ramli finally decided not to include Israel in the list 84 countries enjoying a visa exemption — even though it was initially included. Eventually, the proposal was rejected.
These developments highlight two important points regarding the issue.
First, if the Indonesian government wanted to give a visa exemption to Israelis, it is of note that there could be more drawbacks than benefits for the country. More enmity and anger towards the government will appear from both pro-Palestinian groups and even the general public. There will be an increase in the number of public demonstrations opposing the government’s policy.
When protests and opposition increase, the underlying goal to increase the number of Israeli tourists will not be realised because they will think twice about visiting a country in which most of its citizens reject their presence.
Secondly, when the government clarified that Israel was not included in the list of 84 countries that were given visa-free access to Indonesia, two things were worth observing. One is that Jakarta possibly revoked its decision after receiving opposition from various parties. The other is the government was potentially careless in listing Israel as one of the 84 visa-free countries to Indonesia while it wasn’t part of the list in the first place.
These two points are of course difficult to accept. This is because the government should show more consistency when it comes to applying policies, especially those that concern other countries. The government should also be careful when releasing data about its policies, because oversights are sometimes hard to tolerate.
Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat is a PhD scholar at the University of Manchester.