Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman effectively blocked Wednesday’s planned vote on the “muezzin bill” banning religious institutions from having outdoor loudspeakers, out of concern that it would ban the siren announcing the beginning of Shabbat.
In a letter to the cabinet sent Tuesday evening, Litzman submitted an appeal of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation’s approval of a bill, citing the Talmud, which says that a shofar would be blown as the Sabbath began.
“For thousands of years in the Jewish tradition, different tools were used for this action, including the shofar and trumpets. With technological developments, loudspeakers are used to announce the beginning of Shabbat at a volume permissible by law,” he wrote.
As such, Litzman argued, the muezzin bill would break the current status quo on religion and state.
The initiative in question seeks to prohibit all religious institutions from using outdoor loudspeakers, but both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the bill’s primary sponsor, MK Moti Yogev (Bayit Yehudi), spoke specifically about the Muslim call to prayer waking people up.
Yogev has indicated that he would be willing to alter the legislation to ban only the use of loudspeakers at certain times, so the muezzin’s call can be played during regular waking hours, though at a limited decibel level. However, Netanyahu said he prefers the proposal remain as is.
Some MKs in the Joint List called for civil disobedience if the “muezzin bill” passes.
MK Ahmed Tibi (Joint List) said Muslims should “non-violently disobey this law,” meaning to continue the call to prayer five times a day, including at dawn, from outdoor loudspeakers. Tibi said if Netanyahu does not like the call of the muezzin from Jisr e-Zarka, near the prime minister’s home in Caesarea, he can “go and move to Herzliya Pituah.”
“I am a Muslim, the muezzin says Allah Akbar five times a day. It’s been this way since before Netanyahu arrived in this country and before he moved to Caesarea,” Tibi told The Jerusalem Post
According to Tibi, the bill is “Islamophobic,” and that if there were a law against blowing the shofar in Germany or France, it would be called antisemitism.
“There are laws that a person with a conscience cannot obey. Thomas Jefferson said that if the law is not just, it is not only right not to obey it, it is obligatory not to obey it,” he said.
Tibi speculated that the muezzin bill is making progress now, as opposed to in past Knessets when it was previously proposed, because there is “a new president of the US who is also against Muslims.”
Similarly, MK Masud Gnaim (Joint List) said in an interview with the Knesset Channel that “the whole Arab public should not respect this law, plain and simple. A law like this, that harms our religion, our identity and our freedom of worship – we will not respect it.”
On Monday, MK Taleb Abu Arar (Joint List) chanted the call to prayer from the Knesset podium. Amid vocal protest from MK Oren Hazan (Likud), the deputy Knesset speaker on duty, Yitzhak Vaknin (Shas), said that Abu Arar was within his rights.
MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu), one of the muezzin bill’s sponsors, called for Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit to open a criminal investigation against Tibi for calling for “rebellion against the State of Israel.”
Ilatov pointed out that Tibi originally made his call to break the law “should it pass” to Al-Mayadin, a Lebanese network that has ties to Hezbollah.
“Tibi incites non-stop against the State of Israel, at the service of terrorist organizations that call to destroy Israel. He is a fifth column; all of his efforts are directed at harming and inciting against Israel and its sovereignty,” Ilatov stated. “I will do all I can to ensure that traitors and terrorists will not be public representatives in the Knesset.”
Earlier in the day, Yogev called on opposition MKs to support the bill.
“We are not violating freedom of religion; we are preventing harm to most citizens who are woken by the muezzin’s call. There are tired Arab students too, tired drivers, babies who are woken up, even when double windows are installed,” he said.
Yogev added that since the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the bill earlier this week, he has received hundreds of emails, text messages and calls from Jews and Muslims who support it.
“We will be happy to reach understandings and agreements in the [committee] discussions? – after the bill is approved in a preliminary reading,” he said.
Joint List activists had planned to hold a protest against the bill at the Jaffa clock tower on Wednesday evening.Ben Lynfield contributed to this report.