Indonesian leader who reached out to Jews dies

(JTA) — Abdurrahman Wahid, the former Indonesian president who reached out to Jews and to Israel, has died.

Wahid, 69, died in hospital on Wednesday in Jakarta, news media reported.

Best known as the president who shifted Indonesia to democracy from 1999 to 2001, Wahid was forced out due to a combination of financial scandals, allegations of incompetence and hard-liners who opposed his attempts to liberalize restrictions on political groups and the country’s Chinese minority.

He also faced rancor in some quarters for peddling his vision of moderate Islam, and for slamming Islamist extremists as straying from the faith’s tenets.

As an opposition leader, Wahid broke new ground by visiting Israel in 1994.

The apex of his effort to bring Jews and Muslims closer, conducted jointly with the LibForAll Foundation, a group that promotes moderate Islam, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, was the Holocaust conference in 2007 in Bali, Indonesia. At the conference, which was attended by survivors and Jewish and Muslim clergy, Wahid called Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a liar for denying the Holocaust.

Wahid told JTA in a 2008 interview that he was moved by the plight of the Jews when, as a student in Iraq in 1969, he saw Jewish friends suffering from persecution. He recalled telling a close friend during an anti-Jewish crackdown: "This is not only your fate, it is my fate."

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