Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other prominent Jewish figures have criticized the Swedish police for granting a permit for a planned protest where a copy of the Hebrew Bible will be burned. The protest, set to take place near the Israeli embassy in Stockholm, is seen as an expression of free speech according to the organizers.
The Stockholm police, while acknowledging that permits are not issued for burning religious texts, clarified that they issue permits for public gatherings and the expression of opinion. This distinction is important to uphold the principles of free speech.
However, Netanyahu strongly condemned the decision, calling it a “shameful decision to harm the holy of holies of the Jewish people.” President Isaac Herzog also labeled the protest as an act of “pure hate.”
The scheduled protest comes just weeks after a copy of the Koran was burned near Stockholm’s main mosque, causing outrage and drawing widespread criticism from the Muslim world. Several countries, including Iraq, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco, summoned Swedish ambassadors to seek an explanation for the incident. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation also held an emergency meeting to address the situation.
Sweden’s government condemned the burning of the Koran as Islamophobic but emphasized the constitutionally protected right to freedom of assembly, expression, and demonstration. Nevertheless, authorities initiated an investigation into possible charges of agitation against an ethnic group given the proximity of the burning to the largest mosque in Stockholm.
In response to the permit granted for burning the Hebrew Bible, Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen conveyed opposition to the Swedish embassy in Israel. He characterized the demonstration as a hate crime and a provocation that harmed the Jewish people and their traditions.
While the principles of free speech and the right to peaceful assembly must be upheld, it is crucial to address concerns from both the Jewish and Muslim communities affected by these incidents. Respect for religious symbols and the promotion of tolerance should be emphasized to prevent further tensions and maintain social cohesion.
International dialogue and understanding are needed to navigate the complexities of religious sensitivities and ensure that freedom of expression is exercised responsibly.