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Politics

Indonesians and Malaysians protest Trump's Jerusalem gambit

Widodo, Najib, other leaders to discuss Muslim response in Istanbul

Protesters condemn Washington's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital outside the U.S. embassy in Jakarta on Dec. 11.   © Reuters

JAKARTA/KUALA LUMPUR -- U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has unleashed protests in Southeast Asian countries with large Muslim populations.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak have decided to attend an emergency summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul on Wednesday to discuss the matter.

In Jakarta, some demonstrators on Monday burned the Stars and Stripes as well as pictures of Trump. A day earlier, the Prosperous Justice Party held a massive demonstration in front of the U.S. embassy that drew upward of 4,000 people.

In predominantly Muslim Indonesia, there is concern that public anger could turn violent, prompting authorities to beef up security.

On Friday, there was a massive protest in Kuala Lumpur. According to local media reports, demonstrators shouted "Free Palestine," and young members of the ruling United Malays National Organization, including Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, participated.

McDonald's Malaysia has been hit by a social media user's boycott call. The user says McDonald's Malaysia sends funds to Israel. The fast-food chain has denied this, but some Muslims are now boycotting the burger company.

Malaysia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement that it is "extremely concerned" about the U.S.'s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. "It has grave repercussions not only toward the security and stability of the region, but could also inflame Muslim sentiment worldwide. This will make addressing violent extremism and the radicalization narrative all the more difficult," the statement says.

With protests spreading to many parts of the world, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has convened an extraordinary summit of the OIC. Turkey currently chairs the organization. At the meeting, leaders are expected to express their concerns and discuss steps that the Muslim world can take. 

For Muslims, Jerusalem's status is a deeply sensitive issue. Indonesians and Malaysians feel sympathetic to predominantly Muslim Palestine. Anti-American sentiment is growing, even among government heavies.

On Saturday, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein strongly condemned Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital as "a slap in the face to the entire Muslim world."

"We have to be prepared for any possibilities," Hussein was quoted as saying on Saturday by state news agency Bernama. "The ATM [Malaysian Armed Forces] has always been ready, waiting for instructions from the top leadership.

This surprised other powerful Malaysian voices. Brig. Gen. Mohd Arshad Raji, president of the National Patriots Association and a former national army chief, called Hussein's remarks "unwise."

"The international conflict in Jerusalem is a political issue," he said. "It is best left to diplomacy to sort out this historical mess. If diplomacy fails, the next course of action can be international condemnation."

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