Swedish Jewish leader opposes ban on Bible burning

After Muslim backlash, Stockholm mulls passing a law to protect religious scriptures.

By Etgar Lefkovits, JNS

The head of the Swedish Jewish community has come out against an outright ban on burning holy books even as a majority of Swedes favor such legislation.

The remarks were made as the Swedish government is considering changing 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 recent action.

In reaction to the Koran vandalism, an activist is planning to burn a Torah book and a Christian Bible outside the Israeli embassy in Stockholm.

“Many people outside Sweden have difficulty in understanding why this is allowed at all,” said Aron Verstandig, chairman of the Council of Swedish Jewish Communities. “In Sweden, we have a very wide freedom of expression and demonstration. That’s good, not least for those of us who belong to a minority. It gives us strong protection to state our views even when they conflict with the opinion of the majority.”

He opined that while such actions against scriptures are both “abominable” and proscribed by Jewish law, the reintroduction of “ancient bans” was not the way forward, and he instead proposed criminalizing the hate speech that often happens concomitantly.

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The World Jewish Congress condemned the burning. In a statement on Twitter, the organization wrote:

“We join the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities in condemning the heinous act of burning religious books and express our solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters. The burning of religious texts is an unmistakable act of hate and a fundamental attack against all who adhere to any faith. These visible displays of incitement marginalize religious minorities and sow division across society.”

The arson, which has been widely condemned, pits the wide-ranging freedom of speech against respect for religious minorities and public safety in the highly secular Scandinavian country. Many are concerned that the actions of a few could throw the country into the sort of turmoil that befell neighboring Denmark following caricatures published depicting the Prophet Muhammed.

A majority of Swedes support a ban on the public burning of religious texts such as the Koran or the Bible, according to a new survey conducted on behalf of national television broadcaster Sveriges Television (SVT).

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Fifty-three percent of respondents said that burning holy scriptures of any religion in public should be prohibited, while 34% answered that it should be allowed, and 13% were undecided.

The request to burn the Torah and the Christian Bible outside the embassy on July 15, and a separate request to set another Koran on fire, are still under review by police.

Previous police rejections of such petitions had been overturned by the courts.

Sweden’s Justice Minister Gunnar Strömmer said Thursday that the government is considering whether the law needs to be changed to allow the police to deny such requests.

“We have to ask ourselves whether the current order is good or whether there is reason to reconsider it,” Strömmer told the Aftonbladet newpaper.

The burning of a Koran outside the Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, commonly known as the Stockholm Mosque or the Stockholm Grand Mosque, sparked a backlash across the Islamic world.

The security threats coupled with a delicate diplomatic dance with Sweden awaiting Turkey’s approval to join NATO led to the government’s announcement that it was considering changing the law.

Strömmer noted that Sweden had become a “prioritized target” for attacks.

“We can see that the Koran burning last week has generated threats to our internal security,” he said.

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World Israel News contributed to this report.