Muezzin Law to Move Ahead in Knesset

YERUSHALAYIM -

The Muezzin Law, which would restrict the amount of noise Muslims can make in their calls to prayer, is back on the Knesset agenda after being reworked to toughen enforcement and penalties. After new agreements between the bills sponsors – MKs Robert Ilatuv (Yisrael Beytenu) and Moti Yogev (Jewish Home) – with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Yerushalayim Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, the bill is ready for further legislation, the MKs said.

The Knesset passed the law on its first reading nearly a year ago, eliciting a tidal wave of condemnations, protests, and threats by Arab MKs, who called it a “declaration of war” against their community, while several MKs on the right said that the bill did not have enough teeth to have an actual effect on noise levels. Erdan and Elkin said they would support the bill if the penalties were toughened. Under the new version of the bill, mosques will pay not less than NIS 10,000 for violating the law, and police will be permitted to seize equipment used in the committing of the crime if they raid a mosque.

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., with fines of NIS 10,000 and up, depending on the time of day. 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 mornings and at night.”

Votes on the legislation, which has been ready for months, was delayed because of opposition by Arabs, leftist parties and chareidi parties, who feared that it could be used to prevent the sounding of the siren on Friday afternoon to announce the arrival of Shabbos. 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. The modified version of the law applies to calls to prayer only during the late-night hours.

Muslims have been up in arms over the law. MK Zouhar Bahloul (Zionist Camp) said that this was not an issue of Jew vs. Muslim, as “there is no shortage of Jews opposed to this horrible law. What it is is a Mark of Cain against a parliament that time after time declares war against Israel’s Arab minority.” UAL chairman MK Ayman Odeh said that the law was “persecution of the Arabs, an attempt to push Arabs out, and a declaration of war against Arabic. The Jewish sages said that one cannot institute a law that the public is incapable of adhering to, and this is something we are unable to adhere to. This, like other laws including the one that prevents us from teaching the Nakba, the one that calls for demolition of Arab houses, and the one against our serving in the IDF, is a racist law.”