mosque - Emil Salman - December 12 2011
A mosque in Kafr Azarya next to the Maaleh Adumim settlement. Photo by Emil Salman
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday voiced support for a law that would ban mosques from using loudspeaker systems to call people to prayer.

The so-called Muezzin Law, propsed by MK Anastassia Michaeli (Yisrael Beiteinu ) applies to all houses of worship but the practice is prevalent only in mosques.

"There's no need to be more liberal than Europe," Netanyahu said in reference to the law during a meeting of his Likud ministers.

After intense pressure from Likud ministers Limor Livnat, Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan, who harshly criticized the bill, Netanyahu announced that he was postponing the scheduled debate in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.

Michaeli has said hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens routinely suffer from the noise caused by the muezzin's calls to prayer.

"The bill comes from a worldview whereby freedom of religion should not be a factor in undermining quality of life," she said.

Netanyahu made similar comments to the Likud ministers.

"I have received numerous requests from people who are bothered by the noise from the mosques," he said. "The same problem exists in all European countries, and they know how to deal with it. It's legitimate in Belgium; it's legitimate in France. Why isn't it legitimate here? We don't need to be more liberal than Europe."

Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said there was no need for such a law and that it would only escalate tensions.

Michael Eitan, minister for the improvement of government services, agreed with Meridor, adding that this law was just a pretext for those wishing to legislate against Muslims. "If the desire was to combat sound, then a law against sound in all areas should be introduced," said Eitan. "But the MK proposing the bill wants to combat religion. I met with her and she tried selling it to me as an environmental law. I said to her, 'Look me in the eyes. You are not interested in the environment, but in Islam."

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat joined Eitan and Meridor, saying anyone who wishes to serve a complaint over noises coming from Mosques can already do so under existing law. "There is an anti-noise law that is supposed to deal with the problem of noise from mosques, if such a problem even exists, but that law is not enforced. There is no need for a new law, rather the proper enforcement of the existing one," said Livnat.

"None of the ministers came to Netanyahu's defense or supported his position," said one minister who participated in the meeting.

Netanyahu realized he would not be able to muster a majority in support of the law among his Likud ministers, and announced that the bill would be removed from the agenda of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which convened a few hours after the Likud meeting.

Netanyahu added, however, the matter would be debated over the coming days and that the bill would be brought before the ministerial committee next week.

As a resident of Caesarea, Netanyahu is particularly familiar with the struggles that exist over noises emerging from mosques. For some time now, Caesarea residents have been acting against the use of loudspeaker systems by mosques in the neighboring village of Jisr al-Zarqa. In the past few years, "round table" teams comprised of members from both villages have been set up to find solutions to various issues. One of the representatives from Jisr al-Zarqa told Haaretz the issue of mosques using loudspeakers has arisen in their meetings.

Head of the Jisr al-Zarqa local council Az-a-Din Amash said Netanyahu did not intervene in the discussions, adding, "We have no desire to clash with Caesarea residents over the matter, quite the opposite. As such, we established a joint committee for dialogue, in which numerous issues relating to mosques use of loudspeaker systems arise."

Read this article in Hebrew.