The New Israeli Prayers Law is Unjust, and We Are Obliged to Reject It

Israel’s mosque loudspeaker bill, proposed initially in March and again in November, seeks to silence places of worship at certain hours of the day by preventing them from using loudspeakers for calls to prayer. The Israeli cabinet has backed the bill, but it must pass three readings in the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, before becoming law. Israel’s Arab minority views the bill as an attack on their freedom of religious expression while right-wing sections of Israeli society complain about the Islamic call to prayer disrupting Jewish communities. Below is the view of one of the country’s top Arab lawmakers, Ahmad Tibi.

The Israeli government’s decision to initiate a new law that aims to ban the call to prayer, or Adhan, from mosques in Israel is the latest official attempt to impose what they refer to as the “Jewish State” upon 1.5 million Palestinian citizens living in Israel, as well as upon more than 300,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem. It is the outcome of the Israeli government’s Islamophobia that is gaining strength in its anti-democratic effort following the election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president.

In the government coalition in Israel, there is an aggressive clash between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett. They are both competing to be the leader  who can consolidate the occupation and provide the most help to the settlers.

With this proposed law, mosques that date back more than 200 years are the targets of the Israeli government, such as the Mahmoudiya Mosque in Jaffa or the Aljazar Mosque in Acre, both built in the 19th century. But this is not the first time that the Israeli establishment has attempted to deny our Arab, Christian and Muslim identity.

Netanyahu and his government insist on treating all Palestinians as immigrants. The discriminatory attitude that the Israeli government has directed toward us is not recent and can be seen in more than 50 laws approved in the Israeli parliament since 1948 that we believe undermine our basic rights.

Mosque in Israel A picture taken on November 14, 2016 shows the minaret of a mosque in a Palestinian neighbourhood of east Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he backed a bill limiting the volume of calls to prayer from mosques, a proposal government watchdogs have called a threat to religious freedom. Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty

The Middle East is affected by extremism, and many have pledged to fight the cancer of the so-called Islamic State militant group (ISIS), but it feels to me that the government of Israel is pushing us all into a religious war due to its decision to reject its obligations to allow religious freedom under international law. I want to make it clear that these policies and Netanyahu’s plans to divide our people will end as a failure. He cannot change our identity.

In the Joint Arab List, Israel’s third-largest party, we have tried to establish ties with Jewish religious parties in order to stop the initiative to prevent the call to prayer. Some of the responses have been positive, including from several local rabbis. We have also supported the work of Arab-Israeli civil society in order to promote a local dialogue about this issue in several communities.

Thomas Jefferson once said: “If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obliged to do so.” The Arab citizens of Israel will continue their struggle for equal rights, and so we will disobey this law. From our schools and theaters, from our homes and streets, from our churches and from the minarets of our mosques, we will remind the Israeli government that we are here to live as who we are: proud Arabs and equal citizens.

Ahmad Tibi is the deputy speaker of Israel’s Knesset, representing Israel’s third-largest political party, the Arab Joint List. He is the leader of the Ta’al (the Arab Movement for Change) party.