The Israeli parliament gave its initial approval to two bills that would limit public calls to prayers from mosques.
The measures were voted amid protests and heated debates.
Both texts will now go to committee as a single bill that must be passed
another three times in the full house before it becomes law.
The first draft, presented by the Jewish Home party (HaBayit HaYehudi),
was voted by 55 votes to 47, and imposes silence between 11 pm and 7
am, effectively banning the night and morning calls to prayer.
The second draft, presented by the secularist nationalist party Israel our home (Yisrael Beiteinu), received 55 votes in favour versus 48 against and imposes a total ban on the use of loudspeakers in urban areas.
Dubbed the ‘Muezzin law’, the legislation would amend a law approved
last November that imposed limits on public address announcements,
including synagogues, Haaretz reports.
The new law would impose a 5,000 to 10,000 shekel fine on houses of
worship, mainly mosques, that make public address announcements during
It would also leave it up to the Environmental Affairs minister, in
consultation with the Interior Minister, to determine the times in which
it would be permissible to use public address systems.
If it comes into effect, it would apply to occupied east Jerusalem,
home to 300,000 Palestinians, but it would exclude the al-Aqsa Mosque,
the third holiest site of Islam, which has often been a cause of tension between Palestinians and Israelis.
The purpose of the law, according to its promoters, is "to reduce the
daily suffering of hundreds of thousands of Israelis exposed to the
noise of mosque loudspeakers."
"Those who wish can use an alarm clock to get up and go to the
mosque," said Motti Yogev, a member of Jewish Home. For him, there is no
desire to harm "anyone's religious faith," but of allowing Arabs and
Jews to relax in the hours of rest. "In this respect,” he added, “we are
Lawmaker Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, a mostly Arab party,
slammed the proposal. “This bill is not about loud noise and not about
the quality of life. It is about incitement and racism against a
national minority," he said before he was eventually escorted out of the
assembly hall after he stood up and ripped a copy of the bill into
Right-wing lawmaker Oded Forer of the Yisrael Beytenu Party called
members of Odeh's party "terrorists" and demanded they all be thrown out
of the Knesset plenum. Two Arab lawmakers responded by shouting at
Forer "Allahu Akhbar", the Arabic for God is Great.
Lawmaker Ahmad Tibi was the only member of the Joint List permitted to speak. He blamed Netanyahu for promoting the legislation.
"The voice of a muezzin has never caused any environmental noise,” he
noted. “It is about an important Islamic religious ritual, and we have
never in this house intervened in any religious ceremony related to
Judaism. Your action is a racist slur.”
He went on to say, "Your intervention strikes at the very souls of
Muslims. God is great is a call to prayer, it isn't an insult".
Addressing the Knesset’s religious members, he urged them to oppose
the legislation and not interfere in matters of worship.
However, he was
eventually forced off the podium when he ignored warnings that his
speaking time was up.
MK Zuheir Ba'aloul of the Zionist Union said in his remarks that
followed, that "this is about a war of light vs. darkness. This is a
stain on this building, a mark of Cain on a building that time after
time declares war against us. It is simply put, a declaration of war
against the country's Arab minority."
Prime Minister Netanyahu came out in favour of the law in November
when he spoke to the cabinet's law committee and recommended they
approve the measure, which already exists in Europe.
“I cannot count how many times citizens of all faiths have complained to us about this,” he said.