THE KABABIR MOSQUE in Haifa..
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A proposed law to ban mosques from using loudspeakers for their call to prayers was withdrawn from a scheduled vote on Sunday by the legislation’s sponsor, Bayit Yehudi MK Moti Yogev, in order to make changes to the bill.
Yogev’s bill would define the use of loudspeakers by all places of worship as “strong or unreasonable” as part of the existing Law for Preventing Nuisances, although dispensation could be granted in specific instances by the interior minister.
Yogev stated that many Israeli citizens routinely suffer from the noise of the Muslim call to prayer, made five times a day, which is broadcast from mosques over loudspeaker systems.
The bill states that the call to prayer “disturbs the rest of citizens several times a day, including the early hours of the morning and at night.”
The explanation of the legislation states that it “brings a perspective in which religious freedom does not need to cause harm to quality of life, and proposes that places of worship should be forbidden from using loudspeaker systems to call worshipers or to deliver religious or nationalist messages and sometimes even incitement.”
Opponents to the proposed law have argued, however, that the law is an attempt to quash freedom of religion under the guise of preventing excessive noise.
The Israel Democracy Institute wrote to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation urging its members to oppose the bill, saying it was not necessary since the current law already bans excessive noise.
The IDI’s letter stated that the wording of the explanation to Yogev’s bill “raised the significant suspicion that it is not designed to prevent noise disturbances,” citing the explanation in the bill that it is also designed to prevent using houses of worship for delivering “religious or nationalist messages.”
“Beyond the injury to freedom of religion, the proposal is likely to give rise, to say the least, to confrontation and resentment among the Muslim public,” the IDI said.
Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu and Dr. Thabet Abu-Rass, co-executive directors of the Abraham Fund, an NGO dedicated to improving coexistence between Arab and Jewish citizens, said, “The relations between Jews and Arabs in mixed areas and cities require dialogue and an inclusive policy.
“Friction cannot be solved by legislation,” they said, adding that the same MKs who are behind this bill are the first to defend Jewish religious rights.
Yogev said on Sunday afternoon that he had himself asked to postpone a vote on the bill, saying that he hoped to “reach a balance between not harming the faithful and not harming the environment, and the right of the neighbors to peace and quiet,” and that the bill would be brought back to a vote in the coming weeks.
Arab figures rejected the bill out of hand as a violation of their rights, and one imam called it a nonexistent problem.
“This bill is an integral part of the right-wing campaign against Arab citizens and their rights,” Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen (Hadash) told The Jerusalem Post.
“The aim of it is to divide and spread hatred against our community,” he said, adding that if there really was a serious disturbance, as some have argued, “things could be solved through constructive dialogue, not through a racist bill.”
In addition, continued Jabareen, “The bill entails a clear violation of religious freedom.”
This comes within the context of “historical discrimination” against Muslims, he alleged.
Asked if he thinks another attempt will be made to pass the bill, he replied, “I hope the bill is dead, but I am afraid that in the current political atmosphere in Israel there will always be MKs who would raise the issue for cheap political gain.”
Adel El-Far, imam of an Arab neighborhood mosque in Lod, told the Post that the call to prayer is carried out within the limits of the law that regulates maximum sound as stipulated by the Environmental Protection Ministry.
This proposed bill would be “against the freedom of religion” and in any case, claimed El-Far, “there is no problem in Lod.” He added that the mosque is located in an Arab neighborhood.
Asked what the reaction would be if such a bill were passed, he responded that it would be a “problem,” pointing out that if there were any complaints, the mosque would lower the volume.