Ultra-Orthodox Parties Won't Back New Bid to Cap Mosque Loudspeaker Volume

A committee will debate the bill next week, in preparation for its first of three readings

A mosque with a loudspeaker on its minaret in Maghar, 2017.
Gil Eliahu

Israel's two Ultra-Orthodox parties will not back a new bid to place limitations on loudspeaker volume in Israeli mosques.

The government coalition is renewing its efforts to pass the so-called Muezzin Bill, which would place certain limitations on the use of mosque loudspeakers to call Muslims to prayer during late night and early morning hours.

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee is expected to hold its first session to discuss the bill next Wednesday, in order to prepare it for its first out of three votes in the Knesset plenum.

Lawmakers from the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, that between them represent most of the Sephardic and Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox communities in Israel, promised they would not support the law, though they are members of the government, which is pushing the legislation.

Knesset members Moshe Gafni and Yitzhak Vaknin were asked Wednesday by Israeli Arab MK Ahmed Tibi to publically commit to stopping the new legislation. Gafni and Vaknin both reiterated their commitment, with the later saying: "I told you that my hand would be cut off before I vote in favor of this law."

Two bills on the topic passed their preliminary readings last March and were sent to the committee with the encouragement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but no further action was taken until now.

The government imposed two major hurdles for advancing the bill. The first is that a group of ministers must formulate a unified version of the two private members’ bills that were sent to the committee. The second requires the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which decides whether the coalition will vote for any given bill, to approve the unified version before the Law Committee can vote on it and send it back to the Knesset.

The Law Committee chairman, Habayit Hayehudi’s Nissan Slomiansky, said he set next week’s meeting to hasten the bill’s advancement.

Ahmad Tibi of the Joint List criticized Slomiansky’s decision: “This coalition does not miss any opportunity to set a fire and stick its fingers in the Arab community’s eyes. We will do everything to prevent the advancement of this stupid and awful law. There is no doubt that we will conduct a dialogue with the ultra-Orthodox parties concerning it.”

The proposed law is an amendment to the so-called Noise Prevention Law, which bans using loudspeakers that cause “loud or unreasonable noise” outside houses of worship. The bill would allow the environmental protection minister, in consultation with the interior minister, to determine the times in which it will be permissible to use public address systems.

One version of the bill that passed last March was sponsored by Moti Yogev of Habayit Hayehudi and David Bitan of Likud. It would impose a 5,000 to 10,000 shekel fine for houses of worship, including mosques and synagogues, that use the loudspeakers during hours that are banned under law. The other version was sponsored by Yisrael Beiteinu’s Robert Ilatov.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation gave the original Muezzin Bill the official backing of the coalition in November 2016, after Netanyahu expressed his support for it. “Israel is committed to freedom of religion, but it must also protect citizens from the noise. This is how it is in European cities and I support similar enforcement and legislation in Israel,” he said.