Proposed 'Muezzin Law' raises controversy, tensions

Proposed 'Muezzin Law' raises controversy, tensions

December 5, 2016

In late October, a controversial bill aiming to limit the use of loudspeakers by mosques broadcasting the call to prayer was put forth, raising tensions between Arab and Jewish politicians and religious leaders. Muezzin calls are broadcast five times a day starting before sunrise, as early as 4:30 in the morning. This is the fifth effort since 2011 to extend the existing law on Prevention of Nuisances to specifically ban "houses of prayer" from using loudspeakers. The bill is still pending a first reading as both softer and more punitive versions are being lobbied in response to controversy and political interests

MK Col. Motti Yogev, who introduced the bill, says “the goal of the law is to prevent people’s sleep from being disturbed…We have no desire to harm the prayer of the Muslims.” PM Netanyahu said many citizens "including Muslims and Christians" have approached him to complain about the noise. MK Robert Ilatov wrote that the legislation aims to ensure that freedom of religion should not be an excuse to harm quality of life

Opposing the bill, President Rivlin, Arab and left-wing MKs, and Arab religious leaders said making the legislation specific to houses of prayer is "a provocation" that will only cause religious tension. Minister of Internal Security Gilad Erdan (Likud) and Minister of Interior Aryeh Der'I (Shas), both said the issue is one of enforcement as specific regulations added in the 1990s to the existing legislation cover the issue of loud noises in public and forbid loudspeakers between 11pm and 6am. MK Ahmed Tibi (Joint List) announced the party will turn to the Supreme Court should the bill pass since “This law will silence Muslims but exempt Jews. The law will undermine Israeli Muslims’ freedom of religion”.

Utra-Orthodox MKs also came out against the bill as it might limit "Shabbat sirens" that are also broadcasted via loudspeakers in various neighborhoods to announce the beginning of Shabbat and other Jewish holidays. Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism Chairman) filed an appeal against the proposed legislation, effectively stopping the process. However, following additional discussions, the Ultra-Orthodox MKs declared that if the bill will be formulated in a way that excludes the Shabbat siren (e.g. pertain only to the nighttime prayers) they would vote in favor of it.  A version of the bill has since been proposed that will ban loudspeakers only at night.

Both left and right-wing MKs, religious and community leaders have come out advocating dialogue and negotiations to resolve the issue, even in place of legislation. On November 29th, at an inter-religious dialogue hosted by President Rivlin, Rabbi Aryeh Stern, Jerusalem's Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi, said he "sees a need for a joint call by the highest Jewish and the Muslim religious leadership in the country towards dialogue, which could maybe make the new bill redundant." At an emergency interfaith meeting initiated by MK Yehuda Glick (Likud) and MK Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union) ahead of the December 5th vote on the bill, the MKs, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders emphasized that the issue should be solved via dialogue, not legislation, as the move jeopardizes existing good will on both sides to "preserve religious freedoms and to be considerate of all people in the pre-dawn hours." 

Proponents of dialogue cite examples where local solutions have been developed: In the mixed city of Acre, all Mosques have been united to a single loudspeaker to prevent prolonged prayers coming from numerous Mosques. Likewise, following an agreement between neighboring Jewish and Arab villages in the Jerzriel Valley, numerous smaller speakers were situated in the various neighborhoods of a sprawling village so the Muezzin call could be broadcast at a lower volume.

Most recently, PM Netanyahu is reportedly returning to a tougher version of the bill, seeking higher penalties and a 24-hour ban on muezzin loudspeakers.  

Related Opinion
In the Silencing of Loudspeakers, Israel is no Different - Newsweek - Robert Ilatov - 12.5.16

The New Israeli Prayers Law is Unjust, and We are Obliged to Reject it - Newsweek - Ahmad Tibi - 11.30.16 


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