Israeli Lawmakers Give Initial Approval to Bill Targeting Mosque Loudspeakers

The bill dubbed the Muezzin Law passed a first of a series of votes after a stormy debate during which Arab lawmaker Ayman Odeh was thrown out for tearing up a copy of the legislation, and a right-wing MK called Arab peers 'terrorists.'

MK Ayman Odeh tearing a copy of the Muezzin Bill, Wednesday, March 8, 2017.
Screenshot: The Knesset Channel

The Knesset gave initial approval on Wednesday to a bill that would limit public calls to prayers from mosques, which has been dubbed the Muezzin Law.

After a stormy debate, lawmakers voted 55 to 48 to pass the measure on a preliminary reading. After it goes to committee, the legislation must be passed another three times in the plenum before it becomes law.

The measure, which also proposes limits on public address announcements from synagogues, is an amended version of legislation approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet in November.

Lawmaker Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, a mostly Arab party, was thrown out of the plenum during a stormy debate ahead of the vote, in which he tore up a copy of the legislation. 

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.

MK Motti Yogev of Habayit Hayehudi, another of the bill's sponsors called the measure "first and foremost a piece of social legislation which will allow people to relax during rest hours, Arabs and Jews alike. There is no wish to hurt the believers of any faith. Allah is Great. In that respect, we are all partners."

Yogev dismissed criticism of a centrist lawmaker, Yael German of Yesh Atid, saying she didn't suffer from the noise emitted by muezzin's calling out to prayer "because you live in Herzliya," a city near Tel Aviv.

Lawmaker Ahmad Tibi was the only member of the Joint List permitted to speak. Tibi accused Netanyahu of responsibility for promoting the legislation.

A mosque in Acre.
Abdallah Shama

"The voice of a muezzin has never caused any environmental noise. 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.

"Your intervention strikes at the very souls of Muslims.God is great is a call to prayer, it isn't an insult. It is the substance of our religion. I urge you to wake up and not accept this measure. I appeal to religious lawmakers, don't lend a hand to this. You always beg us not to intervene in your religious affairs," Tibi said.

Tibi was forced off the podium when he ignored warnings that his speaking time was up.

MK Zuheir Ba'aloul of 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."

In November, Netanyahu told the cabinet's law committee in recommending they approve the measure: "I cannot count how many times citizens of all faiths have complained to us about this."

"Israel is committed to religious freedom for all faiths but a commitment to defend its citizens against noise," Netanyahu said, citing that cities in Europe also set restrictions on noise from houses of worship, then adding, "I support similar legislation and enforcement for Israel, too."

The measure imposes a 5,000 to 10,000 shekel fine for houses of worship, mainly mosques that issue public address announcements during hours banned under the law.

It proposes leaving it up to the Environmental Affairs minister , in consultation with the Interior Minister, to determine the times in which it will be permissible to use public address systems.