Lawmakers gave an initial okay to a controversial bill limiting the use of loudspeakers for religious purposes during a stormy vote on the measure in the Knesset Wednesday.
During the vote on the so-called “Muezzin Bill,” Joint (Arab) List MK Ayman Odeh described the measure as an attack on Israel’s Arab citizens. Other Arab Knesset members chanted “Allahu Akbar” in protest.
The bill will limit the time of day and volume that mosques can use for their traditional calls to prayer, addressing a longstanding complaint of some who live near Arab locales.
Critics say the bill unfairly clamps down on religious freedom for Israel’s Muslims. Proponents say it will ensure Israelis can sleep through the night undisturbed, and that similar limitations are imposed in numerous European and Arab countries.
“This is an offensive against the Arab public, against the presence of Arabs [in Israel], against the Arabic language and against our existence in the region,” Odeh said.
“The sound of the muezzin predated the racists and will exist after the racists,” Odeh added.
Odeh was later ejected from the plenum for tearing up a copy of the proposed legislation, along with fellow Joint List MK Masud Ganaim.
Despite having ripped up a copy of the bill at the podium, Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi was not removed from the session. “Islam is stronger than all of you,” he shouted at Jewish MKs from the podium.
MK Jamal Zahalka, also of the Joint List, decried the bill as “a declaration of war on Islam.”
“This is a racist law whose only purpose is to hurt our community,” he said, while adding that “what disturbs the supporters of this legislation is not the noise, but rather that the sound of the muezzin reminds them of the true identity of this land.”
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni said the true purpose of the law was to “destroy the ties between Jews and Arabs.”
“The Muezzin Bill is not meant to prevent noise, but rather to spread hatred,” she said, while adding that the legislation is a “stain and grave attack on [Israel’s] shared social fabric.”
MK Moti Yogev (Jewish Home), who has spearheaded the bill since it was proposed in November, defended the measure as a “law that allows people to sleep during the hours of rest and not to be woken up before dawn.”
Two versions of legislation were passed during Wednesday’s session.
The first, spearheaded by Yisrael Beytenu MKs Robert Ilatov and Oded Forer, would amend the 1961 Prevention of Public Disturbance law to include places of worship. Under the proposal, public speaker systems used by houses of prayer would be defined as “unreasonably loud and likely to cause disturbance” and therefore prohibited. The bill would give the minister of environmental protection and the public security minister the ability to make exceptions.
The second version of the bill, proposed by Yogev and Likud MK Yoav Kisch, would ban all public places of worship from using speaker systems between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m the next day. Under Yogev and Kisch’s bill, places of worship could be fined up to NIS 10,000 ($2,700) for using a speaker system.
Following passage in their preliminary reading on Wednesday, both proposals will go for review to the House Committee, which will decide on when to allow the measure to be voted on for its second and final readings.
Critics of the bill argue that the measure unfairly targets mosques, whose muezzins use loudspeakers to announce the call to prayer five times a day, including during the very early morning hours before dawn.
Other critics of the bill argue that it is superfluous, as the problem can be tackled using existing noise pollution laws. Proponents argue that the police do not enforce the existing rules, and thus more specific legislation is needed.
Jewish residents of East Jerusalem and other areas of Israel have long complained about what they say is the excessive noise coming from mosque loudspeakers, as they say it wakes them up in the middle of the night.
Sponsors of the bill were forced to withdraw it for further revisions a number of times after it was first proposed in November, as ultra-Orthodox lawmakers feared the original bill’s complete prohibition on the use of loudspeakers for religious purposes would outlaw the Shabbat siren, which is heard in cities with large Jewish populations Friday evenings to mark the start of Judaism’s day of rest.
Despite the revision prohibiting the use of loudspeakers only between the hours of 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., the bill was shelved in December, even though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had voiced support for the proposed measure.