Debate on Muezzin Bill Continues Even After Vote

A Muezzin is seen next to a mosque in the northern city of Acre (Akko). (Flash90)

A day after it was approved on its first reading, the Muezzin Law continued to make waves in Israel and elsewhere. In Gaza, Hamas called on Arabs to “rise up” and commit terror attacks against Israelis in retaliation for the law, while Jordan announced that it was a “violation” of the peace treaty between the two countries.

The Hamas message was directed at Israeli Arabs, calling on them to open a “civil rebellion” against Israelis that would include attacking synagogues and other Jewish institutions in retaliation for Israel’s limiting Islamic “freedom of religion.” Meanwhile, a spokesperson for King Abdullah of Jordan said that the law violates the peace treaty between the two countries. “The agreement states that Jordan is responsible for the welfare of Islamic holy places in Jerusalem. This legislation interferes with Israel’s commitments,” the spokesperson said.

Although the law was approved, the debate continued among Israelis as well. Speaking Thursday, Environment Minister Ze’ev Elkin said that there was nothing new in the law, which was not aimed at Muslims, but sought to limit excessive noise. Elkin reiterated to Israel Radio comments he had made in the Knesset a day earlier, that “such laws have been on the books for 25 years, so it is not clear why this law is being seen as it has been portrayed by some. MKs are loudly condemning a law to prevent something that is already illegal.”

After months of delay, the modified version of the law proposed by MKs Moti Yogev (Jewish Home) and David Bitan (Likud), sponsors of the bill, was approved. The law forbids the use of loudspeakers by muezzins to call Muslims to prayers during the late-night hours, between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. According to the bill, violators will pay NIS 5,000-10,000 for each violation, depending on what time of the day the violation occurs. According to Yogev, “hundreds of thousands of Israelis in the Galilee, Negev, Yerushalayim, Tel Aviv-Jaffa and other places in Israel suffer on a regular basis as a result of the muezzin’s call to prayers. The excess noise is generated by sound systems which harm the sleep and rest of Israelis numerous times a day, especially in the early morning and at night.” The bill will now be sent back to the committee for review and preparation for its second and third reading.

Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid said that while he agreed that the noise from the call to prayer needed to be limited, he criticized the bill. “If the issue was just noise, they would enforce the existing laws on noise and apply them to the mosques. But this is not the intention” of the bill’s sponsors, Lapid wrote in a social media post. “Their intention is to hurt and insult Arabs, to send out a message that the way to love Israel is to hate Arabs. This is an insult to Israelis’ intelligence.”

In response, Culture Minister Miri Regev said that Lapid was the last one qualified to talk about the muezzin’s call to prayer. As a resident of a tiny neighborhood in Tel Aviv, it’s possible that Lapid may never have heard the early-morning call to prayer, which comes as early as 4 a.m. during the summer months. “When was the last time you were awakened by the muezzin’s noise?” she wrote in her response. “It seems to me that the only noise that wakes you up is the noise from the coffee machine. Yair, wake up – you are disconnected from the problems of Israelis.”