Police will reportedly be empowered to enter mosques and confiscate loudspeakers under new proposals if the traditional Muslim call to prayer makes too much noise.
According to a report Monday by Hadashot TV news, officers will also be able to impose higher fines on the mosques than the sums discussed to date.
The so-called Muezzin Bill seeks to limit the time of day and volume that Israeli mosques can use for their traditional calls to prayer. The muezzin is the Muslim religious figure who calls the faithful to prayer five times a day.
MKs Moti Yogev (Jewish Home) and Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu), the bill’s sponsors, say it is aimed at helping Israelis who live near mosques to sleep through the night undisturbed and that similar limitations on the volume of calls to prayer have already been imposed in several European and Arab countries.
Critics, however, say the bill unfairly clamps down on religious freedom for Israel’s Muslims.
When it came up for a preliminary reading, which it passed, in March 2017, it sparked expressions of outrage in the Arab world and shouting matches between ruling coalition members and Arab lawmakers, some of whom tore up copies of the legislation and were ejected from the plenum.
It was then passed on for examination to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin. The latter is responsible for noise pollution.
The two ministers have now proposed beefing up the bill by giving the police powers to seize the loudspeakers and to impose fines of more than the NIS 10,000 ($2,850) originally proposed, Monday’s report said.
Proposals to limit the volume of the Muslim call to prayer have been making the rounds in the Knesset for eight years.
Last month, two possible versions of the bill were presented to members of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. One would totally ban the use of public speaker systems by houses of prayer but would allow the ministers of environmental protection and public security to make exceptions. The other would define the hours when loudspeakers could not be used.
Ultra-Orthodox parties want the legislation to exempt the Shabbat siren, which is heard in cities with large Jewish populations late Friday afternoons or early evenings to mark the start of Judaism’s day of rest.
The bill needs to clear three more Knesset readings in order to become law.