Rights Groups Call on Israel to Reject Bill Banning Mosques From Broadcasting Call to Prayer

The bill would infringe on religious freedom, Israel Democracy Institute says ahead of Sunday's vote at ministerial panel.

Emil Salman

The Israel Democracy Institute and other groups have called on ministers to reject a bill that would prohibit the use of public address systems to call Muslims to prayer in Israeli mosques.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation is due to decide Sunday whether to support the bill, which was initiated by MK Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi).

The Israel Democracy Institute sent the panel members a legal opinion outlining why the lawmakers should not approve the bill. Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, attorney Eli Bahar and Dr. Amir Fuchs wrote that the bill’s real purpose was not to deal with a noise problem, but to curtail religious freedom.

“If this law is advanced, it could arouse and encourage rifts, and be seen as intending to hurt the Muslim community,” the experts wrote. “A government committed to egalitarian norms of government and protection of religious freedom should not allow this bill to become law in Israel,” they added.

The bill’s supporters – who include MK Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu), MK Miki Zohar and Nurit Koren (both Likud) – say that in addition to addressing the issue of unacceptable noise levels from the call to prayer, it would also prevent messages of a religious or ultranationalist nature and incitement being conveyed from loudspeakers installed in mosques.

Although the law would apply to houses of prayer for all religions, the bill notes specifically that its main purpose is to deal with PA systems in mosques.

Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu and Dr. Thabet Abu Rass, codirectors at the nonprofit Abraham Fund Initiatives, also called on ministers to reject the bill.

“The relationship between Jews and Arabs in mixed areas requires dialogue and a policy of inclusiveness, and issues of friction cannot be resolved in legislation that hurts the fabric of ties between groups,” they wrote. “There are examples of local arrangements achieved together on the matter of the call to prayer by muezzins, such as in Jaffa, where for more than a decade a central system times and regulates the magnitude of the call – an arrangement advanced by Jaffa’s Arab population as well,” they added.

Beeri-Sulitzeanu and Abu Rass said the framers of the bill were “the first to defend the religious rights of Jews in Israel, even when these create constraints for other groups – for example, the lack of public transportation on the Sabbath. However, they do not hesitate to bully others when it comes to the religious and community customs of Israel’s Muslim citizens.”

The bill’s explanatory notes state that “hundreds of thousands of Israelis – in the Galilee, the Negev, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa and other areas in central Israel – experience regular daily suffering from the noise resulting from the muezzin calls in the mosques. This noise stems from the use of a PA system that disturbs the other residents several times a day, including in the early morning and at night,” adding that religious freedom should not undermine the quality of life.

The bill states that the interior minister would have the authority to allow certain houses of prayer to use public address systems, despite the prohibition.