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Indonesia's Jewish population numbered about 3,000 during World War Two, out of a total population of 68 million – yet the Japanese occupiers blamed this small group for an economic crisis and sent its members to forced labor camps.

Studies on the plight of Indonesia's Jews under the Japanese occupation were presented Tuesday at the ninth annual convention on Asian Studies at Haifa University. According to Prof. Rotem Kovner of the Asian Studies Program, the Jewish population in Indonesia on the eve of Japan's invasion was about equally divided between Jews of European descent and Jews of Iraqi descent. When the Japanese took over, the European Jews were placed in concentration camps along with all other Europeans, but Iraqi Jews remained free, as did Jews who were citizens of neutral countries or countries allied with Japan.

The tiny scapegoat

In mid-1943, however, things changed: a deep economic crisis broke out in Indonesia. “The Japanese, who wanted to calm the local populace, began uttering vague promises of independence and simultaneously looked for a scapegoat,” Kovner explained. “Despite the Jewish population's tiny size, it was chosen for this role.”

It was at this point that anti-Semitic propaganda began to be spread in Indonesia. Jews were blamed for the economic woes, having supposedly taken over natural resources. Other familiar European anti-Semitic claims were rehashed for the Indonesian populace.

Dr. Ran Shauli noted that while Japan persecuted Chinese and other minorities in the other countries they conquered, Indonesia was unique in that no ethnic group was persecuted – except for the Jews.

Jews in Indonesia now number an estimated twenty (20) individuals, out of a total population of about 230 million. US President Barack Hussein Obama spent four years of his childhood in that country.