The legislation, presented by some ultra-right-wing Knesset members, was written in a general way to apply to all religious institutions. But it applied primarily to mosques, where a muezzin uses a loudspeaker attached to the top of a minaret to call Muslims to prayer five times a day.
Jewish Israelis who live in proximity to Muslim neighborhoods have been complaining for years about noise pollution from nearby mosques. Especially frustrating, they say, is the call just before dawn, waking them unnecessarily from slumber.
On Sunday, the Israeli government gave its preliminary approval to the bill, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying: “Muslims, as well as Jews and Christians, also suffer from this.
“I cannot count the times that citizens have turned to me from all parts of Israeli society, from all religions, with complaints about the noise and suffering caused them by the excessive noise coming from the public address systems of houses of prayer.”
Netanyahu said the law was not an attack on freedom of religion but rather a move to defend “those who suffer from the loudness of the excessive noise of the announcements.”
Many cities in Europe and even the Islamic world have implemented similar bans, said proponents of the bill.
But the proposal drew angry responses from Muslim Israelis and Palestinians.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said an attempt to limit the muezzin's call, especially in Jerusalem where there are more than 100 mosques, “would drag the area to catastrophe.” He said the Palestinian Authority would turn to the U.N. Security Council and other international bodies to stop the bill. Other Palestinians said it was a religious war on Muslims.
“The law to silence the muezzin is a populist and racist attempt to incite against the Arab public,” Knesset member Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab faction in the Israeli parliament, said in a tweet.
Odeh said Israel already has laws pertaining to noise pollution, and the purpose of this particular bill was only to label mosques as problematic, the Jerusalem Post reported.
But the Muslim call to prayer isn't the only contributor to the holy land's soundtrack. Every Friday in the early evening, sirens sound to alert Jews to the start of the Sabbath.
And on Tuesday night, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties in the Knesset suddenly realized that a law preventing religious institutions from using loudspeakers could mean curtailing their Sabbath call, too.
That prompted Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, from the United Torah Judaism party, to appeal the bill. This means it will not be brought to a vote in the Knesset in the meantime.
“For thousands of years, in Jewish tradition, various instruments have served for this purpose, among others, the shofar [ram's horn] and the trumpet, and today the loudspeaker,” Litzman said in his appeal. Another ultra-Orthodox minister, Aryeh Deri, supported shelving the bill.
Odeh, chairman of the Arab Joint List, sent Litzman a note thanking him for blocking the bill.
“I believe that a significant step was taken today in cooperation between the weaker sectors of society,” he told the lawmaker.