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Israel hit by Bible burning row

Ethiopian Jews. File photo
Proselytizing to Ethiopian Jews is an historically sensitive issue

Messianic Jews in Israel say they want an inquiry into the burning of hundreds of copies of the New Testament by Orthodox Jews in Or Yehuda last week.

The books were given to the town's Ethiopian Jews by the Messianic Jews, who believe in Jesus as a saviour.

Or Yehuda's deputy mayor says he received complaints about the books, and arranged for them to be burnt.

He has now apologised after his actions have been compared to those of Nazis who burnt Jewish holy scriptures.

Proselytizing to Ethiopian Jews is sensitive because historically they were the target of missionaries who converted many to Christianity in Ethiopia - though they later argued the conversion was forced and they had never really abandoned their Jewish faith, the BBC's Frances Harrison says.

The dispute is revealing growing tension between Messianic Jews and their Orthodox opponents who do not recognise them as Jews, our correspondent adds.

'Dumped and burned'

Many of the details of exactly what happened in Or Yehuda are now disputed.

But the deputy mayor says Messianic Jewish missionaries had targeted an area of the town where many Ethiopian Jews live, distributing packages containing New Testaments and pamphlets.

He says he received complaints and then drove around the area with a loudspeaker urging people to hand over the material to Orthodox religious students who went door-to-door collecting it.

The books were then dumped in a pile and burned.

Messianic Jews complain of institutionalised discrimination and are demanding all those involved be put on trial.

Meanwhile, Orthodox Jews are applauding the destruction of texts they say urge Jews to convert.



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