Israeli Parliament Approves Bill to Quieten Mosques, Fueling Arab Anger

Israel minaret
The minaret of a mosque is seen in the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa in Jerusalem, March 8. The Israeli parliament initially approved a bill that seeks to ban calls to prayer between 11pm and 7am. Reuters/Ammar Awad

Israeli lawmakers invoked Arab anger late Wednesday after approving an initial reading of a bill that will limit calls to prayer from places of worship, viewed as a targeted law against Muslim communities.

The Israeli parliament, or Knesset, voted 55 to 48 in favor of the bill, an amended version of the bill that the cabinet of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved in November.

It seeks to ban calls to prayer between 11pm and 7am. The bill also includes churches and synagogues, but Israeli Arabs say it predominantly targets their communities. The traditional Muslim call to prayer, made from the Muezzin, or loudspeaker, of a mosque, typically sounds before sunrise.

The bill, which still needs to pass three further readings before becoming law, will apply to communities in East Jerusalem, a territory the Palestinians have earmarked as the capital of any future state, as well as Israel proper. It will impose a 5,000 to 10,000 shekel ($1,350-2,700) fine for houses of worship that violate the ban.

The result prompted scenes of anger within the chamber of Israeli democracy, as well as regional condemnation. Jordan, Israel's Arab neighbor, criticized the bill as a piece of "discriminatory" legislation that "violates Israel's obligations under international human rights," such as the right to freedom of religion.

Ahmad Tibi, an Israeli Arab lawmaker who was removed from the debate ahead of the vote during a critical speech to the parliament, told Newsweek Thursday: "This is a racist law aimed exclusively against Muslims. Behind this law is Netanyahu himself. There is no need for this proposal, it is a source of friction and anger. Muslims will play the muezzin (loudspeaker) of mosques regardless of this law."

Read more: Israeli bill to quieten mosque call to prayer gains coalition support

Other Arab lawmakers expressed their frustration at a bill they say is an attack on their religion and culture by one of the most right-wing governments in Israeli history. Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Arab Joint List, Israel's third-largest party, ripped up a copy of the bill's legislation during the parliamentary debate. Security threw him out of the debate ahead of the vote.

Zouheir Bahloul, lawmaker for the opposition Zionist Union faction, called the bill a declaration of "war against the country's Arab minority." As tensions boiled over, far-right Israeli politician Robert Ilatov of the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party told Joint List lawmaker Osama Saadi to "go back to Saudi Arabia!"

Netanyahu remained defiant in his support of the bill Wednesday. He said: "All Israeli citizens—Jews, Muslims and Christians alike—have a right to sleep in peace. We will move forward with the legislation, as is the practice in many nations around the world."

The Al-Aqsa Mosque, which Muslims consider to be the third-holiest site in Islam, will not be party to the ban because of the sensitives around the site, which is controlled by a Jordanian-Palestinian-led Islamic Waqf (trust). Israel refers to the site as the Temple Mount and considers it to be the holiest site in Judaism.