Lawmakers revive bid to muffle Muslim call to prayer
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Lawmakers revive bid to muffle Muslim call to prayer

With bill amended to exclude Shabbat siren, ultra-Orthodox minister gives green light to legislation

An Israeli flag waves in front of the minaret of a mosque in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem's Old City on November 14, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX)
An Israeli flag waves in front of the minaret of a mosque in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem's Old City on November 14, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX)

A controversial bill to ban the use of loudspeakers to amplify the Muslim call to prayer is to go forward after it was amended so as not to affect the Jewish Shabbat siren, the speaker of the Knesset’s office said Wednesday.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, a member of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, had blocked the draft law in its original form for fear it would also force the toning down of the sirens that announce the start of the Jewish day of rest at sundown each Friday.

But he lifted his objections after it was amended to apply only between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., limiting its scope to the first of the five daily Muslim calls to prayer just before dawn.

The bill, which would bar mosques from using loudspeaker systems to announce the Muslim call to prayer five times a day, will “probably” be put to a preliminary vote in parliament next week, a spokesman for speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein said. The amplified prayer call have been a frequent target of right-wing ire, with some claiming the loudspeakers are an unnecessarily loud nuisance that echoes in Jewish towns and neighborhoods.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman at a press conference at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem, on November 21, 2016. (Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Health Minister Yaakov Litzman at a press conference at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem, on November 21, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The bill will then require three further parliamentary votes before it becomes law but it has already sparked outrage around the Arab and wider Muslim world.

Even Israeli government watchdogs have balked at the proposed legislation, describing it as a threat to religious freedom and an unnecessary provocation.

Arab Israeli lawmaker Ahmad Tibi has vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court if the Shabbat siren is excluded from the scope of the bill on the grounds that it discriminates between Jewish and Muslim citizens.

Other critics of the bill say that the proposed law is unnecessary, as the problem can be addressed through existing laws and regulations concerning noise pollution.

The law would apply to mosques in annexed East Jerusalem as well as in Israel, although the super-sensitive Al-Aqsa Mosque compound — Islam’s third-holiest site — will be exempted.

“No changes will be made on the Temple Mount,” an Israeli official told AFP, using the Jewish term for the compound, which is Judaism’s holiest site.

The bill’s sponsor, Moti Yogev, of the right-wing Jewish Home party, says the legislation is necessary to avoid daily disturbance to the lives of hundreds of thousands of non-Muslim Israelis.

MK Moti Yogev of the Jewish Home party. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
MK Moti Yogev of the Jewish Home party. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

He also charges that some muezzins — the lay officials charged with calling the faithful to prayer — abuse their function to incite hatred of Israel.

His party is a key member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

Netanyahu has thrown his support behind the bill, saying that the noise made by the call to prayer disturbs Israelis of all faiths and that similar laws exist in many European and some Muslim countries.

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