Herzog: 'Blatant incitement and an act of pure hate'

Israel protests as Sweden allows Torah burning outside embassy on Saturday

President, chief rabbis and others call to stop destruction of sacred works after Stockholm police okay request for ‘freedom of speech’ gathering

Salwan Momika holds a Quran as he protests outside a mosque in Stockholm on June 28, 2023, during the Eid al-Adha holiday. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP)
Salwan Momika holds a Quran as he protests outside a mosque in Stockholm on June 28, 2023, during the Eid al-Adha holiday. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP)

Israeli officials protested to Sweden on Friday after local police gave the go-ahead to a request to allow the burning of a Bible outside of the Israeli embassy in Stockholm on Saturday, saying that the decision was tantamount to a “hate crime.”

Local police two weeks ago said they had received an application from an individual in his 30s to burn a Jewish and a Christian Bible outside Israel’s Embassy in Stockholm on July 15 as “a symbolic gathering for the sake of freedom of speech.” It comes just weeks after Quran burnings took place in the city.

It was not immediately clear if the person planned to burn a copy of the Bible or a Torah scroll.

The move sparked widespread outrage in Israel and Jewish groups.

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.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “Israel viewed very severely this shameful decision to harm the holy of holies of the Jewish people.”

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen also condemned the plans and said the ministry had conveyed to the Swedish embassy in Israel “the severity with which Israel views the police permission to harm sacred Jewish objects.”

Cohen called the decision “a hate crime, a provocation causing grave harm to the Jewish people and Jewish tradition.”

“I call on the authorities in Sweden to prevent this shameful act,” he said.

Israel’s Ambassador to Sweden Ziv Nevo Kulman on Friday expressed his dismay over the fact Stockholm gave the request a green light.

“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 tweeted.

Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau also sent a letter to Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson urging him to stop the desecration.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau attends a ceremony of the Israeli police for the Jewish new year at the National Headquarters of the Israel Police in Jerusalem on September 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“I call on you to do everything possible to prevent this act. Freedom of expression does not mean permitting everything,” Lau wrote.

“Any desecration of sacred Jewish items is not freedom, but antisemitism,” he said.

Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef implored Sweden’s figurehead king Carl XVI Gustaf to intervene, condemning the planned event as well as the recent burning of the Quran in front of a mosque in Sweden.

“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,” he wrote.

According to the Ynet news site, Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli also wrote a letter to Kristersson requesting that the Swedish premier order a stop to the burning.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström responded to Chikli, saying that the Swedish government is not authorized to infringe upon its citizens’ constitutional right of free speech but emphasized his country’s efforts in combating antisemitism.

Meanwhile, United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni called Foreign Minister Eli Cohen to urge additional steps to try and stop the burning, the Walla news site reported.

“This is a shameful act and we can’t allow it, I reverently hope that we will manage to stop this,” he said.

The European Jewish Congress also issued a statement strongly condemning the act.

“Provocative, racist, antisemitic and sickening acts such as these have no place in any civilized society,” EJC president Ariel Muzicant said.

“Stamping on the deepest religious and cultural sensibilities of people is the clearest expression possible to send a message that minorities are unwelcome and unrespected,” Muzicant added. “These actions, based on contorted and specious free speech arguments, are a disgrace to Sweden and any democratic government worthy of the name should prevent it.”

Two weeks ago, the Swedish police allowed a Quran burning in front of a mosque in Stockholm to go ahead, citing freedom of speech after a court overturned a ban on Quran burning.

Young girls take part in a rally called by ‘Muslim Women League’ group take part in a rally to denounce the recent desecration of Islam’s holy book by far-right activists in Sweden and the Netherlands, in Lahore, Pakistan, Sunday, January 29, 2023. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

Sweden’s government condemned the Quran burning, calling it an “Islamophobic” act after a call for collective measures to avoid future Quran burnings was issued by the Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

The 57-member body met at its Jeddah headquarters to respond to the incident, in which an Iraqi citizen living in Sweden, Salwan Momika, 37, stomped on the Islamic holy book, filled some pages with bacon and set several others alight.

“The burning of the Quran, or any other holy text, is an offensive and disrespectful act and a clear provocation. Expressions of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance have no place in Sweden or in Europe,” the Swedish foreign ministry said.

At the same time, the ministry added that Sweden has a “constitutionally protected right to freedom of assembly, expression and demonstration.”

Countries including Iraq, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco summoned Swedish ambassadors in protest at the Quran-burning incident.

Salwan Momika holds up a Quran before setting some pages on fire in a protest outside a mosque in Stockholm on June 28, 2023, during the Eid al-Adha holiday. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP)

Swedish police had granted Momika a permit in line with free speech protections, but authorities later said they had opened an investigation over “agitation against an ethnic group,” noting that Momika had burnt pages from the Islamic holy book very close to Stockholm’s largest mosque.

AFP contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: