An “odd couple” of Knesset members – Yehuda Glick, a religious Jewish Likud MK identified with the right, and Zuhar Bahloul, an Arab MK of the Zionist Camp – on Monday issued a joint call to the government to drop its sponsorship of the Muezzin Law, which would ban the Muslim call to prayer over loudspeakers.
“Some people say that when you gather leaders of different religions together you create the opportunity for a big fight, but we say that the people here are all good people and that there is a greater chance for people to get together,” the MKs said. “There were many people who wanted to stop this event from taking place, but we are here to advance the cause of dialogue.”
The two made the statement during a gathering of religious officials, including rabbis, imams, qadis, priests, and other functionaries. The gathering at the Knesset was organized by Glick and Bahloul, with the aim of appealing to the government to drop its support for the bill. “Legislation on this matter is more likely to do harm than good,” the MKs said. “We do not dispute the right of imams to call the faithful to prayer. At the same time, we believe there are solutions that can be instituted that will prevent discomfort to those not interested in the calls to prayer, especially very early in the morning.”
The Muezzin Law was proposed by Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev. “Hundreds of thousands of Israelis in the Galilee, Negev, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, and other places in Israel suffer on a regular basis as a result of the muezzin’s call to prayers,” Yogev wrote in an introduction to the bill. “The excess noise is generated by sound systems which harm the sleep and rest of Israelis numerous times a day, especially in the early mornings and at night.” His proposal, wrote Yogev, “emphasizes the idea that freedom of religion does not have to harm quality of life, and recommends that the use of sound systems to call people to prayer or to send out other messages be banned.”
The law has elicited savage condemnation by Arab MKs, who called the law racist. The law will “turn the political dispute into a religious one and this could set off the entire region,” MK Ahmed Tibi said. The law was opposed by chareidi MKs of United Torah Judaism and Shas, with Interior Minister Aryeh Deri saying that laws on the books were sufficient to limit the noise from mosques, especially the early-morning calls that were the real issue for most people. The current laws were not being enforced, and if they were, said Deri, there would be no need for a new law.
At a meeting last week with President Reuven Rivlin, Harav Hagaon Aryeh Stern, Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi of Jerusalem, and Harav Yosef Asher, Chief Rabbi of Akko, both said that the issue should be resolved with dialog, not legislation. Harav Stern said that he saw “the need for a joint call for dialog by the religious and cultural leadership, both Jewish and Muslim, which will hopefully obviate the need for the Muezzin Law. The call to lower the volume should be concurrent with one to halt the legislation.”