Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he supports a bill to bar mosques from using loudspeaker systems for the Muslim call to prayer, and pointed to similar restrictions in European and even some Muslim countries as justification for the move.
The prayer calls, traditionally announced through minarets five times a day and often amplified with loudspeakers, have been a frequent target of right-wing ire, with some claiming they are an unnecessarily loud nuisance that echoes in Jewish towns and neighborhoods.
Arab lawmakers attacked the proposal as a hate-fueled assault on Muslim freedom of religion.
Speaking ahead of a vote on the bill in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, the prime minister said that the blared prayer calls are a public nuisance that cuts across all religious denominations.
“The Muslims, the Jews, and the Christian are all suffering from this,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times people have approached me, from all walks of Israeli society, who are crying out about the suffering that is caused by excessive noise reaching them from prayer house announcements.”
Legislative efforts to stymie the calls have always failed to garner large-scale support, though, and it’s unclear whether this newest bid will find more backing. The bill, penned by Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev, was set to be voted on by the committee in March but was removed from agenda hours before the scheduled meeting.
“Israel is a country that respects freedom of religion for all,” Netanyahu continued. “Israel is committed to protect anyone who suffers from the excessively loud calls. That is the custom in many European cities. That is the custom also in various places in the Muslim world, where they limited the volume of the calls out of consideration for the general public.”
Supporters of the bill say freedom of religion should take a backseat to quality of life in this case.
Joint (Arab) List leader MK Aymen Odeh slammed the legislation, calling it “another bill, in a series of populist bills, whose objective is to create an atmosphere of hate and incitement against the Arab population.
“There are noise laws and regulations that also apply to mosques, so it’s clear that the sole purpose of the bill is to mark the mosques as a problem source. It is a clear attack on Muslim freedom of religion and the continuation of a wave of persecution that the prime minister is leading.”
His fellow party lawmaker Hanin Zoabi suggested that those who are bothered by the calls to prayer should find somewhere else to live.
“Those who suffer from the sounds of the muezzins are specifically those who chose to settle near the the mosques, and… they are invited to leave if they are suffering so much,” she said. “This isn’t Europe here. Anyone who feels like he is in Europe, and thinks this is Europe, should consider going there.”
Likud MKs Miki Zohar and Nurit Koren, Jewish Home MKs Bezalel Smotrich and Shuli Muallem-Refaeli, and Kulanu MK Merav Ben-Ari have also endorsed the legislation.
The bill would aim to prevent both loud calls to prayer and “conveying religious or nationalist messages, or even words of incitement,” and seeks to ban sound systems at all houses of prayer in the country, not just mosques.
“Hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens — in the Galilee, Negev, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa and other places in central Israel — suffer regularly and daily from the noise caused by the call of the muezzin from mosques,” reads the proposed legislation.
“The noise made by these public calls disturbs the rest of the citizens several times a day, including in the early mornings and at nighttime,” it says.
Some 20 percent of Israel’s population are Arab, most of them Muslim, making the calls to prayer a familiar sound in many parts of the country.
The issue of muezzin loudspeakers have been a source of friction in areas where Jews and Arabs live in close quarters. In 2014, the Yisrael Beytenu party revived a proposal that would ban electronic amplification of the calls to prayer.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.