JERUSALEM: Israel's parliamentary speaker on Wednesday sharply criticised a far-right MP after he publicly tore up a Hebrew copy of the New Testament which was sent to MPs by the Bible Society.
At the start of Wednesday's parliamentary session, Reuven Rivlin condemned the actions of National Union MP Michael Ben Ari, saying freedom of expression "was not a licence for anarchy."
"I condemn the desecration of holy scriptures of any religion, and most certainly the act of tearing up a New Testament by an MP yesterday," he said.
"Every holy book is important to its followers."
Ben Ari publicly ripped up the New Testament, describing it as a "despicable book" in what he said was a protest after the Bible Society distributed copies to Israel's 120 parliamentarians.
A picture of him ripping out the pages was taken by a parliamentary aide and published on an Israeli news website.
Entitled "The Book of Testaments," the book also includes a copy of the Jewish Bible, known to Christians as the Old Testament.
"Can we imagine what would have happened if an MP from any other country burnt the Hebrew Bible if he thought it had been sent to him as a provocation?" Rivlin said.
"Democracy is about freedom of expression but that is not a licence for anarchy with respect to the feelings of those who follow other religions," he said.
"Freedom of belief and worship is one of the foundations of the State of Israel."
The Israeli office of the Anti-Defamation League, which monitors anti-Semitism, also condemned the incident saying it was "horrified" by reports that an Israeli MP "tore up a copy of the New Testament and posed for photographs with the destroyed Bible."
The group issued a statement calling on Ben Ari to publicly apologise for his "disrespectful act."
"As Jews, we expect others to treat our holy books with respect and understanding. We should likewise show respect for the holy books of other faiths," said Abraham H Foxman, ADL's National Director.
"A member of parliament and a representative of the State of Israel should know better than to show such profound disrespect for another faith. His actions run counter to Jewish values and the standards of Israel's democratic society."
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