Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin condemned National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari on Wednesday for publicly tearing up a copy of the New Testament that he and other MKs had received at the Knesset. The Anti-Defamation League called on Ben-Ari to apologize, expressing consternation at the act.
Ben-Ari defended his response and said all Knesset members “should have thrown the New Testament in the garbage.”
On Monday MKs found that a publishing company had placed copies of the New Testament in their mailboxes. Upon making this discovery, the right-wing MK angrily tore up his copy.
Rivlin decried Ben-Ari’s act, saying all religious books had to be respected. “Holy scriptures are important to their believers,” he said.
What would the Jewish reaction be if a parliament member from another country burned the Torah, Rivlin inquired. Democracy includes the freedom of expression, “but not the freedom of offending believers of other faiths,” he said. “Freedom of religion is a cornerstone of this country.”
In a statement by the Anti-Defamation League, the organization said it “was horrified” by the act and called on Ben-Ari to publicly apologize for his actions.
“As Jews, we expect others to treat our holy books with respect and understanding,” said Abraham H. Foxman, the ADL’s national director. “We should likewise show respect for the holy books of other faiths.”
Foxman said that “a member of parliament and a representative of the State of Israel ” was even more obligated than the average person to act with respect. “His actions run counter to Jewish values and the standards of Israel’s democratic society,” Foxman said.
Ben-Ari told the Hebrew news site NRG that he had been compelled to take action because Rivlin was silent on the matter. Those who sent the books wanted “to trample the bodies of millions of people killed for being Jewish,” Ben-Ari said. Rivlin needs to stop trying to appease missionaries, he added.
“My response was timely and appropriate,” the right-wing legislator said. “All the Knesset members should have thrown it in their trash bins.”
A response sent from Ben-Ari’s office to the Hebrew news website NRG called the ADL a hypocritical body. “We didn’t hear the organization speak out against the burning of synagogues and desecration of Jewish graves,” it said.
“Ben-Ari will continue to safeguard Israel’s honor, along with the honor of all those who were murdered for being Jewish,” the statement said.
Government spokesman Mark Regev told AP, “We totally deplore this behavior and condemn it outright. This action stands in complete contrast to our values and our traditions. Israel is a tolerant society, but we have zero tolerance for this despicable and hateful act.”