Sweden approves burning of Jewish Bible outside Israeli embassy on Shabbat

Sweden approves burning of Jewish Bible outside Israeli embassy on Shabbat

Swedish police have approved the burning of a Bible on Saturday outside the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm, officials said Friday. It was not immediately clear if the person planned to burn a copy of the Bible or a Torah scroll.

The controversial decision follows similar burnings of the Koran in Sweden by activists that have sparked outrage in the Islamic world.

The police force last week confirmed that it had received an application from a man in his 30s to burn Jewish and Christian holy books outside the embassy on July 15 as “a symbolic gathering for the sake of freedom of speech.”

The demonstration is slated for Shabbat, when the Israeli embassy is closed, and observant Jews attend synagogue services during which the weekly Torah portion is read.

A recent public opinion poll in Sweden found that the majority of citizens now support a ban on the public burning of religious texts such as the Bible or the Koran.

In January, an anti-Israel protest which included the public burning of a sacred Torah scroll in front of the Israeli embassy in Stockholm was successfully blocked by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The protest was organized by an Egyptian author living in Stockholm who requested police to hold it in front of the Israeli embassy in Stockholm.

The head of the Swedish Jewish community, who has come out against a ban on such burnings, said Friday that the best course of action was to ignore the situation.  

“I would advise individuals to ignore this event and not give it more attention,” Aron Verstandig, chairman of the Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, told JNS.  He said that the local community had tried and apparently failed to prevent the development.

Previous police rejections of similar petitions had been overturned by Swedish courts.  

Stockholm had weighed stepping in to change the law to allow police to stop Koran burnings in public, in the wake of the damage to the country’s internal security triggered by such events.

Israel’s Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi David Lau penned an open letter to Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.

 “I was horrified to hear of the intentions of a number of civilians who are Swedish residents, who plan to protest opposite the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm, [in a] protest which will include the burning of a Torah,” Rabbi Lau wrote. “The more serious issue is, according to the same news, that the Swedish police have approved such a serious and horrific thing, obviously under the guise of ‘freedom of expression.’

“A few months ago, protesters in Sweden burned a Quran in front of the Turkish Embassy building. This in itself is a horrific thing and obligates everyone to protest with all their might and to condemn such a thing. But this wrong does not justify another wrong; one despicable act does not permit another despicable act.

“I call on you to insist with all your might that such a thing not happen. Freedom of expression does not permit doing everything, and any harm to what is holy to Israel is not an expression of freedom, but of antisemitism.

“I am convinced that everyone on the face of this planet understands how serious these acts are, and condemns them,” Rabbi Lau concluded.

Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef penned a letter to Sweden’s King Carl Gustaf XVI, King of Sweden.

“Your Majesty, I write to you today with great concern and deep distress regarding an imminent event that has the potential to undermine the values of tolerance, respect, and religious freedom that we hold dear,” Rabbi Yosef wrote.

“It has come to my attention that permission has been granted by the authorities for the burning of the Holy Bible in front of the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm tomorrow. I implore Your Majesty to intervene in this matter and prevent such an act from taking place.

“I must emphasize that our protest is not confined solely to the burning of the Holy Bible. We also vehemently condemn the recent act of burning the Quran in front of a mosque. As people of faith, we firmly believe that two wrongs do not make a right. It is imperative that we uphold the principles of mutual respect and dignity, even in the face of disagreements or tensions between communities.

“As you may be aware, the Jewish people are currently observing a period of three weeks marked by sadness, leading up to the solemn day of the 9th of Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. This day serves as a reminder of the burning of holy books in the thirteenth century in Europe, which set a tragic precedent for further heinous acts throughout history. The German poet Heinrich Heine once wrote, ‘Those who burn books will, in the end, burn people,’ a statement that regrettably manifested in Europe during our lifetime. It is evident that freedom of expression should never serve as a justification for perpetrating acts of cruelty or inciting hatred.”

Rabbi Yosef continued, “Your Highness, I appeal to your noble character and your dedication to promoting peace and harmony among all people. As the leader of Sweden, a country renowned for its commitment to human rights and religious freedom, I kindly request that you utilize your influence to ensure that the burning of the Holy Bible does not take place. By preventing this event from occurring, you would send a powerful message to the world that Sweden stands firmly against religious intolerance and that such acts have no place in a civilized society.”

“In taking this stand, you would not only safeguard the dignity of the Jewish people but also protect the principles upon which a harmonious and diverse society is built. Our shared commitment to humanity transcends religious, cultural, and national boundaries, and it is through our actions that we can promote a world where respect, understanding, and acceptance thrive.

“Your Majesty, I trust in your wisdom and compassion to address this matter promptly. The Jewish community in Israel and worldwide, as well as all those who value religious freedom and human dignity, look to you for your intervention and support. May your reign continue to be marked by justice, tolerance, and peace.

“Wishing Your Majesty a long and good life, I take this opportunity to extend my heartfelt congratulations on the occasion of your 50 years on the throne. Your steadfast leadership and commitment to your country and its people are truly commendable. May the years ahead be filled with continued success and the realization of your vision for Sweden.”

President Isaac Herzog said the act was one of “pure hate.”

“I unequivocally condemn the permission granted in Sweden to burn holy books. As the President of the State of Israel, I condemned the burning of the Quran, sacred to Muslims world over, and I am now heartbroken that the same fate awaits a Jewish Bible, the eternal book of the Jewish people,” Herzog said in a statement.

“Permitting the defacement of sacred texts is not an exercise in freedom of expression, it is blatant incitement and an act of pure hate. The whole world must join together in clearly condemning this repulsive act.”

Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli addressed the matter in a statement Friday.

“Such explicit acts of bigotry and hatred against the Jewish people is as much revolting as it is reprehensible and has no place amongst the liberal democracies of the world,” Chikli said.

Chikli had previously written to the Swedish prime minister urging his government to intervene.

“The Swedish government deeply regrets when extremists and provocateurs try to sow division in our society, even when they are exercising constitutionally protected acts,” Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom had replied. 

Israeli Ambassador to Sweden Ziv Nevo Kulman on Friday denounced the police decision.

“I utterly condemn the burning of holy books sacred to any religion, as an act of hate and disrespect, that has nothing to do with freedom of expression,” he said.

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