A planned demonstration in Stockholm by an Egyptian immigrant in which a Torah would have been burned outside the Israeli embassy actually had little to do with antisemitism, according to Rabbi Moshe David HaCohen, co-director of Amanah, the Muslim-Jewish Partnership of Trust in Sweden together with Imam Salahuddin Barakat.
In an interview Tuesday with JewishPress.com, the rabbi also said that in fact, the planned Torah-burning was prevented – at least for now – thanks to the efforts of a prominent Muslim leader who reached out to the organizer at the request of the organization.
The protester, a 34-year-old Egyptian writer who lives in Sweden, told the Dagens Nyheter Swedish daily that he intended to burn the Torah to highlight Sweden’s double standard when it comes to the Muslim community, as well as to “remind about Israel’s killing of Palestinian children.”
Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson Lior Havat told JewishPress.com the ministry and the Israeli embassy in Sweden “acted immediately and decisively to prevent the shocking and humiliating event from taking place,” contacting the Swedish ministry of foreign affairs and the Stockholm police, in addition to the Swedish embassy in Israel.
But Havat also noted that the protest was “frozen” and not permanently cancelled.
The protester told the Swedish daily that he still intends to carry out his plan: “I will submit a new application next week,” he said.
Rabbi HaCohen told JewishPress.com that he does not believe the Israeli government had anything to do with stopping the 34-year-old Egyptian writer from carrying out his threat to burn a Torah outside the embassy.
“I don’t know what was going on politically – I don’t have that information,” the rabbi said, but pointed out that despite media reports to the contrary, the Egyptian protester has not given up his plan and if he resubmits his application for a permit, the Swedish government is still likely to allow him to do whatever he wishes.
Political pressure does not sway Sweden’s commitment to freedom of expression, the rabbi said.
“Swedish lawmakers don’t work like that.”
Instead, Amanah appealed to the protester’s sense of justice. “We sent him a very important Muslim leader who went to his home and spoke with him,” the rabbi said.
“You can stand up for Palestinian rights, but no Jew here [in Sweden] should have to pay the price for that,” he explained. “Why insult the Jewish community, which stands together with the Muslim community on all kinds of important issues?”
Amanah also took a strong stand against Rasmus Paludan, the dual Swedish-Danish national provocateur who led a far-right demonstration on January 21, burning a Quran in front of Turkey’s embassy in Stockholm, allegedly in response to Turkey’s refusal to allow Sweden to join NATO.
It was not the first such desecration by Paludan, leader of the far-right Danish party “Hard Line.” Rabbi HaCohen said Paludan has repeatedly burned Qurans, “weekly and sometimes daily.”
“The Swedish constitution allows full freedom of expression,” the rabbi explained. “There’s no red line for the Swedish government; no limitations are made.”
The burning of the Quran – which further threatens Sweden’s bid for NATO membership — as expected, sparked criticism across the Islamic world, including from Turkey, which said in the wake of the desecration that it would be “meaningless” to hold further discussions with Sweden.