After a stormy debate that included mutual insult-hurling by the Left and Right, by Muslims and Jews, the Knesset voted 55-48, in its preliminary reading of the controversial “muezzin bill,” a proposal to prohibit religious institutions from using outdoor loudspeakers that is understood to be directed at the country’s mosques.
As the bill is in its early stages, two versions of the legislation were considered by the plenum: a stricter version, by Yisrael Beytenu MKs Robert Ilatov and Oded Forer, who suggest prohibiting the use of outdoor speakers at any time; and a softer version, by MK Moti Yogev (Bayit Yehudi) and MK David Bitan (Likud), which would forbid the use of outdoor speakers to sound the call for prayer in residential areas from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.
The bills also stipulate a fine of NIS 10,000 for any violation of the law.
Any “house of prayer” – including synagogues, churches and mosques – would come under the law, although what brought about the softer version of the bill was pressure from the haredi sector, which feared the legislation would affect the Shabbat sirens that sound at sundown on Fridays.
Now that the plenum has advanced the bill, the Knesset House Committee will decide which committee will discuss the proposed law ahead of its first reading.
When Yogev presented the bill in front of the Knesset plenum, he stressed that in his point of view, this is a social bill, not a religious one.
“I was approached by many citizens, including Muslims, to deal with this phenomenon,” he said.
“Many people all over the country suffer on a daily basis from the noise made by the call to prayer. This is a social bill that seeks to allow citizens to rest during sleeping hours and not to be awakened at 4:30 a.m.
“We do not wish to harm worshipers by this bill,” Yogev added. “We, too, believe that God is one, God is great – Allahu akhbar. We are partners on this matter. But hundreds of thousands of citizens in mixed [Jewish and Muslim] areas – Haifa, Acre, Nazareth and all over Israel – all suffer from this.”
Yogev stated that loudspeakers in houses of prayer are a relatively new phenomenon.
Ayman Odeh rips copy of muezzin bill (credit: The Joint List)
“This is not an ancient tradition from the beginning of history,” he said. “Loudspeakers are a phenomenon that started in the last century. In past decades we had alarm clocks – that’s what Jews are doing in the month of Tishrei, and Muslims should do it to wake up for their dawn prayer.”
During his address, Yogev was interrupted several times by multiple MKs, mainly from the Joint List. Faction chairman MK Ayman Odeh and MK Masud Gnaim tore up copies of the bill in front of the plenum and were sent out by the speaker. MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) called on coalition lawmakers to oppose the bill and added: “Where is your sanity?” MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) presented his objection to the bill in front of the plenum and said the muezzin sound was never a nuisance and never constituted environmental damage.
“This is an important Islamic ritual,” he said. “We, as Muslims, never interfered with legislation in your Jewish spiritual rituals. This bill is a racist nuisance. You are touching the deepest nerves of Muslims and hurting the Islamic religion.” Tibi added, “The azzan [act of call to prayer] was here before the racist lawmakers came.”
Meanwhile, right-wing MKs criticized the responses from Arab MKs and blamed them for fanning the flames.
“You are the top inciter,” shouted MK Oren Hazan (Likud) at Tibi. “You are a criminal, a liar and an inciter,” he said.
While presenting his version of the bill, Ilatov responded to the Arab MKs by saying: “You should go back to Saudi Arabia.”
MK Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union) stressed that in his opinion, this bill does not represent a war between Arabs and Jews, but between enlightenment and ignorance.
“This is a war between sanity and racism,” he said. “This is a disgrace on this house that, time after time, declares a war on the Arab minority.”
Bahloul mentioned his recent efforts, along with MK Yehudah Glick (Likud), to prevent the passage of the bill and to find alternative solutions to the issue.
“We have made a moral pact to fight this bill,” he said. “We met with rabbis and sheikhs on multiple occasions, and we had agreements.”
Despite a common rule about MKs voting in favor of bills supported by their parties, Glick and Yisrael Eichler (United Torah Judaism) did not vote.
After the vote, Glick said that he is sorry that there are political forces adding fuel to the fire of animosity between the Muslim and Jewish publics while wishing to satisfy their constituencies.
“There are alternative solutions that do not demand fistfights and imposing legislation,” he said.
“These communities are going nowhere,” he added.
“It would be best if this problem were solved with the consent of both sides, like we’ve seen in Acre, Haifa and other cities."