The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Israeli politician wants to silence the Muslim call to prayer

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish children run before a backdrop of the Dome of the Rock Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam and referred to by Jews as the Temple Mount, in the old city of Jerusalem, July 17, 2014. (Muhammed Muheisen/AP Images)

A right-wing Israeli member of parliament has proposed legislation that would ban the Muslim call to prayer in Israel, where 20 percent of the population is Arab (the majority of whom are Muslim). Robert Ilatov, a MP from the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, argued for restricting the ability of mosques to project the 'Adhan," or call to prayer, which are sung out usually by a local muezzin five times a day.

The song of the muezzin is a fixture of urban life in many parts of the world where there are Muslim populations. But for Ilatov and others, it's a problem of noise pollution. The proposed bill would give Israeli authorities the right to decide whether public address systems can be placed in mosques -- a de facto right to muffle the muezzin.

"Hundreds of thousands of citizens in Israel, in the Galilee, the Negev, Jerusalem and other locations in central Israel suffer on a regular basis from noise that is caused by muezzin calls in mosques," reads the proposed bill, according to the Daily Telegraph.

This is not the first time Ilatov's party has proposed this measure. In 2011, another Yisrael Beitenu member proposed a similar bill. It was backed by the party's leader Avigdor Lieberman, who is currently Israel's foreign minister, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The move foundered after officials decided it was too divisive a measure.

"This is simply a march of folly," said then Israeli President Shimon Peres. "I am personally ashamed there are attempts being made to pass such laws."

The bill's revival is perhaps emblematic of the adversarial mood in Israel, with Netanyahu's government controversially expanding settlements into East Jerusalem and fears of mounting tensions between Palestinians and Orthodox Jews in the ancient city.

Ilatov's proposal is also evidence of what many critics claim is a climate of deepening racism toward Palestinians, fostered by ascendant right-wing forces in the country. Writing in the New York Times, Rula Jebreal, an outspoken Palestinian Israeli commentator, wrote of the increasing hardships for Arab minorities within the Israeli State:

Israel is increasingly becoming a project of ethno-religious purity and exclusion. Religious Zionist and ultra-Orthodox parties occupy 30 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, and the coalition government includes members of Jewish Home, a religious Zionist party, and Yisrael Beiteinu, a right-wing nationalist party. Central to their politics is a program of discriminatory legislation, designed to curtail the civil rights of Palestinian Israeli citizens.

Ilatov seems undeterred, though it's unclear whether the bill will get much further this time. "Freedom of religion and worship is a universal freedom to which everyone is entitled in every democratic state, and of course in Israel," he told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. "This does not mean that additional rights can be trampled, such as the right to conduct a normal daily routine that includes peaceful and uninterrupted sleep during the night."