Bill to Ban Mosques' Prayer Calls Gets New Life After Shabbat Loophole Eases ultra-Orthodox Concerns

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A mosque in Jaffa (archive photo).
A mosque in Jaffa (archive photo). Credit: Oren Ziv

A bill to ban mosques from broadcasting the call to prayer over loudspeakers is likely to come up for a preliminary reading in the Knesset on Wednesday, after Health Minister Yaakov Litzman has reportedly agreed to withdraw his appeal against the governing coalition’s decision to support the bill.

Litzman, of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, objected to the bill because he feared it would be used to ban the use of sirens to mark the start of Shabbat, a common practice in Jewish communities. Though the bill was submitted mainly to stop the use of loudspeakers at mosques, as currently written it would ban the use of loudspeakers by any religious institution.

Now, however, Litzman has reportedly agreed to withdraw his appeal if a provision is added making an exception for the siren at the start of Shabbat.

MK Ahmad Tibi said Friday that if the law passes, he and his colleagues from the Arab parties’ Joint List will petition the High Court of Justice against it on the grounds that it discriminates against Muslims and infringes on their freedom of religion.

“This law will silence Muslims but exempt Jews. The law will undermine Israeli Muslims’ freedom of religion,” he said.

“This law is unnecessary, provocative and outrageous. The issues can be solved without coercion. Jews and Arabs in various parts of the country have reached solutions through dialogue, and we need to keep moving in this direction.”

Over the past few days, Muslim religious leaders in Pakistan, Turkey and Lebanon have contacted Tibi to voice concerns about the bill, he said.

His Joint List colleague MK Basel Ghattas said that "if mosques are silenced, we will make sure that the muezzin will be heard in churches, in Nazareth, in Haifa, in Jaffa and in Jerusalem."

"In recent days I've spoken with a number of Christian Arab religious leaders and we agreed that this bill poses a danger not only to mosques or to Muslim Arab citizens, but also endangers churches and Christian Arabs and the Palestinian identity.

"Therefore, we won't stand idly by, and will act against this bill in all possible ways," he said. 

Last Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation decided that the coalition should support the bill, which has been publicly backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

When the bill was first submitted about six months ago, its declared purpose was to prevent religious institutions from broadcasting nationalist messages and incitement over loudspeakers. But it was revised and now cites intent to prevent harm to qualify of life.

Mosques broadcast the call to prayer five times a day, with the first call coming before dawn and the last after dark. The predawn call in particular has drawn many complaints from people who say it wakes them up.

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