Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced support for a bill prohibiting the use of loudspeakers at mosques during Muslim prayer services. The bill will be discussed Sunday by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, Netanyahu said ahead of the committee's meeting.
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The bill, a new version of one originally intended to stop the broadcasting of nationalistic messages and incitement, now cites damage to quality of life due to noise as a reason for the prohibition.
"I cannot tell you how many times people of all faiths who are bothered by this. 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," the prime minster said.
The bill was initially presented six months ago by MK Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi), but was reworded following critical legal opinions.
In the original bill, Yogev specifically states that it was intended to prevent muezzins, criers of the hours of daily prayer, from broadcasting religious or nationalistic messages and incitement at mosques through loudspeakers. Although the law would apply to the houses of worship of all religions in Israel, Yogev had made clear in the original law that it was meant to address mainly loudspeakers in mosques.
Along with Yogev, MKs Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu) and Miki Zohar and Nurit Koren (Likud) also signed the bill.
“The bill presents a worldview by which freedom of religion should not constitute a factor damaging quality of life, and proposes prohibiting houses of prayer from using loudspeakers to call worshippers or to broadcast religious and nationalistic statements and sometimes incitement,” Yogev wrote in the new bill.
The Israel Democracy Institute attacked the original wording of the bill six months ago. “This is a bill whose purpose is not to deal with some nuisance, but rather to damage freedom of religion. If the bill is moved ahead, it could arouse and encourage rifts and appear to be intended to hurt the Muslim public. Therefore, a government that is committed to egalitarian norms of governing and protection of freedom of religion should not allow this bill into Israeli law.”
Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu and Dr. Thabet Abu Rass, co-executive directors of the Abraham Fund, also called on the ministers to reject the bill. “Relations between Jews and Arabs in mixed areas and cities require dialogue and an inclusive policy and issues of friction cannot be gotten rid of by legislation that damages the fabric of ties between the groups. There are examples of local arrangements that have been achieved together with regard to the calls of the muezzin, as for example in Jaffa, where for more than a decade the loudspeaker system times and regulates the volume of the call – an arrangement also encouraged by the Arab inhabitants of the city.”
Be’eri-Sulitzeanu and Abu Rass said the lawmakers behind the bill “are the first to defend the religious rights of Jews in Israel, even when these create hardships for other groups, for example, the lack of public transportation on Shabbat, but they do not hesitate to act in a bullying and destructive manner when it comes to the religious customs of Israel’s Muslim citizens.