Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was interviewed on Swedish television on Friday and explained that burning a Torah is not freedom of speech, but rather an expression of hatred and incitement.
“As an Israeli, as a Jew I find it deeply disturbing to have the Torah burnt. I myself, as a man of faith, every day I pray using the verses of the Torah and this is an affront to every Jew, every Israeli and I may say every human being,” Bennett said when asked why he is against the burning of the Torah scroll.
“This is not about freedom of speech, because freedom of speech does not allow for incitement and hatred and these sorts of divisive actions,” he added.
Asked to explain why the Israeli public is upset about the planned burning of the Torah, Bennett replied “You know, the Jewish people have been around for thousands of years based on the belief in the Torah, and to have the Torah being burned in a deliberate and outlandish manner is a profound affront to every Jew in the world.”
He continued, “I also have to say that a couple of weeks ago, when the Quran was burnt in Sweden, the Israeli government went out very harshly against this act. We should not be burning holy books of any religion. This is not what free speech is about. Free speech is about allowing different opinions, allowing debate. Now in Israel there's a tremendous upsurge in the discussion regarding this. We're a vibrant democracy. This is not free speech. This is a horrible use of deliberate hatred.”
The interviewer noted that in Sweden, the law states that freedom of speech is paramount and asked Bennett why should it concern another country when a Swedish citizen expresses that right.
“It’s not only about the country. Israel is not only the Israeli state, it's the Jewish state, and as such we will fight against antisemitism anywhere as it occurs, and this is a blatant act of antisemitism and it's just wrong. It's also stupid and foolish. This is not what Sweden is about. This is not the values of democracy. Israel is a democracy but we do not allow anyone to burn up Quran or the New Testament and certainly not the Torah. You can be a democracy that respects people of other religions.”
To the question of whether he foresees any consequences to the Sweden-Israel relationship as a result of the planned Torah burning, Bennett said, “I'm not the currently serving as a minister or prime minister of Israel. I believe that's for the current government to decide. What I can say is that from here we also strengthen the Jewish community in Sweden and we want the Jewish community to know that Israel is out there with you. We do not accept this, and I would expect also masses of good natured and decent Swedes to be out there fighting against this horrific act.”
“This is about being a decent human being and, as a Jew and as someone who was a prime minister of the Jewish state and I worked very hard, for many years, to look out for the rights and respect of all religions here in Israel, I would expect our friend Sweden to act the same just because it's the right thing to do,” he said.
(Israel National News' North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Israel National News articles, however, is Israeli time.)