The Knesset vote on a bill seeking to penalize mosques in Israel for using loudspeakers to deliver the Muslim call to prayer was apparently shelved temporarily Wednesday, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to muster a majority for a more punitive version of the legislation.
In a last-minute decision, the coalition pulled the bill from the agenda, postponing a vote for a third time this month, and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party indicated it would be buried.
The proposal, dubbed the “muezzin bill,” has sparked outrage around the Arab and wider Muslim world, including condemnations from Turkey and Jordan. Netanyahu has thrown his support behind it, citing similar noise pollution laws in some European and Muslim countries, while President Reuven Rivlin has objected to the legislation.
The sponsor of the bill, Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev, said the delay was requested by the prime minister and Knesset speaker in order to “soften the bill to [apply to] the night hours only,” referring to a compromise with the ultra-Orthodox parties reached several weeks ago, which was announced but apparently did not make in into revisions of the legislation. “We are working on it now,” he tweeted.
The proposed legislation was approved by a key ministerial panel in mid-November, but as initially blocked by Health Minister Yaakov Litzman over fears it would prevent synagogues from using sirens to announce the onset of Shabbat.
A new version of the legislation, which was drafted by Yogev and coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud), says religious institutions will not be allowed to use loudspeakers between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
But according to Hebrew Media reports, Netanyahu is seeking to scupper the agreement with the ultra-Orthodox parties and impose the ban during night hours as well.
The prime minister is also reportedly pushing for tougher penalties for those who break the ban. According to Channel 2 news, the fine for each individual infringement of the law could range from between NIS 5,000 ($1,300) to NIS 10,000 ($2,600).
The move appears to put Netanyahu at loggerheads with a number of top ministers with Deri saying Wednesday that several senior cabinet members oppose the bill outright.
In an interview with the ultra-Orthodox Kikar HaShabat website, Deri said that in a meeting several weeks ago, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, and Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin all expressed opposition to the legislation.
“They said unequivocally — the law is unnecessary, it will cause damage,” Deri said, adding that the ministers suggested setting up a committee to cut a deal with Arab Israeli leaders to lower the volume on the prayer calls instead of imposing a ban.
Should the law pass, it would fall to Elkin and Deri’s offices to both enforce it and make exceptions.
Deri insisted that the existing noise pollution laws were sufficient to crack down on the phenomenon.“There is no need for other legislation,” Deri said, predicting that the bill will likely not become law. “My assessment is that it won’t advance to other readings”
Yogev, however, maintained that the proposal will be on the agenda again next week, telling The Times of Israel that due to the disagreements, the first reading of the bill could include two versions of a clause defining the hours that the applies for.
The idea to include two options is apparently taken from a draft of the Regulation Bill to legalize West Bank outposts — passed Thursday night in its first reading — which had, in an earlier iteration, included two versions of a clause regarding the evacuation Amona.
There, as in this case, including two options was intended to allow the bill to progress through the legislative process while disagreements over the final text were still being negotiated.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.