Israel approves bill to hush ‘noisy’ mosques

© Thomas Coex
Israel’s ministerial committee has approved a draft bill to limit noise pollution by banning the use of outdoor loudspeakers which announce Muslim calls to prayer. Opponents of the bill call it “racist,” despite the Israeli PM voicing strong support.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the so-called “muezzin bill,” drafted to address endless complaints of excessive noise, especially in the early hours of the morning.

“Hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens – in the Galilee, Negev, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa and other places in central Israel – suffer regularly and daily from the noise caused by the call of the muezzin from mosques,” reads the legislation.

“The noise made by these public calls disturbs the rest of the citizens several times a day, including in the early mornings and at nighttime.”

The bill now must undergo three readings in parliament before it becomes a law. Speaking in support of the measure, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that his office is overwhelmed by the noise complaints it receives.

“Muslims, Jews, and Christians suffer from this. I cannot count the number of times that civilians have approached me from all strands of Israeli society who complain about the choice and the suffering which is caused by the excessive noise from houses of worship,” he said.

“Israel is committed to freedom for all religions but is also responsible for protecting its citizens from noise. That’s how it is in cities in Europe. I support similar legislation and enforcement in Israel,” Netanyahu stated.

The prayer calls, traditionally announced through minarets five times a day get amplified using the loudspeakers. The five daily prayers are obligatory for Muslims. They are performed at times determined essentially by the position of the sun in the sky.
While the times vary at different locations on the Earth, the first one usually starts around dawn.

The passing of the bill, submitted by MK Motti Yogev from Jewish Home, a religious Zionist political party, and Robert Ilatov from Yisrael Beiteinu, a secularist and right-wing nationalist political party, follows a number of demonstrations in eastern Jerusalem which called to limit noise pollution.

Defending the bill in front of Israel’s roughly 17.5 percent Arabs, most of whom are Muslim, Yogev said the early-morning calls disturb the sleep of hundreds of thousands of Jews and Arabs alike.

“We are not opposed to religious observance, and certainly not to the call of the muezzin that ‘God is great’,” said Yogev.“But with all the technological advances of today, there is no justification for waking people up at 4:00am [who don’t want (to attend prayer services],” he told the Hebrew-language Channel 1, urging people to instead use cell phone applications and alarm clocks to get up on time.

“One hundred years ago there were no loudspeakers,” Yogev said, as quoted by Ynet News. “So what did the muezzins do at that time?”

Knesset Members representing the Arab community criticized the bill. MK Issawi Freij from the Meretz social-democratic party said the legislation reflected the ongoing anti-Muslim sentiment.

MK Ayman Odeh meanwhile called the bill racist and populist.

“Its whole goal is to create an atmosphere of hatred and incitement towards the Arab public,” Odeh stated, as quoted by The Jerusalem Post.“There are already noise laws that apply to mosques and it is clear that the whole purpose of the bill is to label mosques as problematic. It is a clear harm to freedom of religion for Muslims and the continuation of the persecution led by the prime minister."

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As the bill was debated on Friday the Former Jerusalem Grand Mufti Sheikh Ekrima Sabri told worshipers at the Al-Aqsa mosque, that “anyone who is angered by the call of the muezzin, should leave” Israel.“Israel has no right to intervene with the call of the muezzin, because it is contrary to freedom of worship,” the cleric said.