Swedish police have approved the burning of a Bible on Saturday outside the Israeli embassy in Stockholm, officials said on Friday.
The controversial decision follows similar burnings of the Quran 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 Quran.
The head of the Swedish Jewish community, who has come out against a ban on such burnings, said on 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 noted 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.
Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef wrote to Swedish King Carl Gustaf XVI, stating: “Your Highness, I appeal to your noble character and your dedication to promoting peace and tolerance among all people. As a 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.”
He added that “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.”
Stockholm had weighed stepping in to change the law to allow police to stop Quran burnings in public in the wake of the damage to the country’s internal security triggered by such events.
Yaakov Hagoel, chairman of the World Zionist Organization, said “permission to burn a Bible in front of the Israeli embassy in Stockholm is not freedom of expression but antisemitism. Eighty years after the cursed Holocaust and signs we wanted to forget, we are again reminded to stand guard. I also strongly condemn the burning of the Quran. This is not the way of the Jewish people, and I call upon the Swedish government to reverse the decision of the police of allowing the Antisemitic burning of the Bible. Enough to hate.”
‘Blatant incitement and an act of pure hate’
“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,” Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli said in a statement on Friday.
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 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 on Friday.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog also said in a statement released on Friday, “I unequivocally condemn the permission granted in Sweden to burn holy books. As president of the State of Israel, I condemned the burning of the Quran, sacred to Muslims the world over, and I am now heartbroken that the same fate awaits a Jewish Bible, the eternal book of the Jewish people.
“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.”