After it was taken off the Knesset agenda Wednesday as a result of objections by Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, the Muezzin Law returns to the Ministerial Law Committee for reconsideration next Sunday. The main reason for his objection, Rabbi Litzman said in a statement, was his concern that placing a limit on the religious rights of one group would violate the status quo for all groups, and by forcing changes in that status quo, it would open other groups to changes as well. Already, numerous secular groups have expressed opposition to the sirens that sound on Friday afternoon, minutes before candle lighting.
While the sirens are usually sounded only in areas with high concentrations of chareidi and observant Jews, the sound “slips out” to other areas, and far-left MKs have threatened at times to legislate against them. Rabbi Litzman fears, among other things, that the High Court would require a law against the sirens to be legislated, if the Knesset succeeds in passing the Muezzin Law.
Indeed, confirmed Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan in an interview Wednesday, the wording of the law could be interpreted as such, and appeals to the High Court for equal enforcement of the law could lead to precisely the situation Rabbi Litzman described. Nevertheless, in an interview with Kol Beramah radio Thursday, Rabbi Litzman acknowledged the problem with the Muslim call to prayer, and agreed that there was a need for a law to limit the noise level emanating from mosques when calling to prayer, especially for the early-morning dawn service. And if the Shabbos siren issue could be resolved, he, too, would support the Muezzin Law, Rabbi Litzman said.
“I sat with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday and we discussed the pending legislation, and I told him that we at United Torah Judaism could support the Muezzin Law only if a solution was found for the siren issue,” he said. “I told him we could not compromise on this,” despite the fact that Netanyahu is a strong backer of the measure. “I also told him that if the High Court had known I would be such a popular minister [and have the ministerial right to object to [laws], they would have found a way to ban me from a ministry position,” he said half-jokingly.
Muslims have been up in arms over the law, and in a Knesset discussion Monday night several got up and began ululating the call to prayer in the Knesset, in protest over the law – causing a near-riot in the chamber. On Tuesday, Arab MK Ahmed Tibi called for a “civil rebellion” over the law. “This is an unworthy law and I call on the public to refuse to honor or observe it,” he said in an interview in Arab media. “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu himself stands behind this law and he is the chief spreader of Islamophobia and incitement against Muslims,” he said, later backing away from the notion.
“Netanyahu wants to turn the political dispute into a religious one and this could set off the entire region,” Tibi said. “There will not be a situation in which the muezzin’s call will not be heard. Perhaps he supports this law because he can hear the call in his villa in Caesarea when it is sounded in Jisr a-Zarka [north of Caesarea], but he cannot be allowed to drive everyone crazy because of his personal preferences.”