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Israel postpones vote on banning Muslim call to prayer once again

Dec. 7, 2016 3:44 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 14, 2016 7:44 P.M.)
An Israeli flag displayed on a roof of a settlement in East Jerusalem is seen in front of the dome of the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Sept. 17, 2015 (AFP/Thomas Coex, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Israeli Knesset Wednesday postponed for the third time a controversial bill that would impose limits on the Muslim call to prayer in Israel and in occupied East Jerusalem, according to Israeli media.

The so-called “muezzin bill” -- referring to the men responsible for the call to prayer -- calls for barring the use of loudspeakers for any religious or "inciting" messages as part of the call to prayer, and was approved by the Israeli Ministerial Committee on Legislation as draft legislation last month.

The call to prayer -- also known as the adhan -- is broadcast five times a day from mosques or Islamic centers.

According to the Times of Israel, Knesset member Moti Yogev, the sponsor of the bill, had called for the delay of the vote after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an outspoken supporter of the bill, ordered its “softening” that would line up with compromises made with ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups several weeks ago who requested that the bill be amended to only apply to the night hours.

On Monday, Times of Israel reported that Likud MK Yehudah Glick and Zionist Union MK Zouheir Bahloul organized an “interfaith meeting” in the Knesset to resolve the issue of the call to prayer and to urge the Israeli government to scrap the bill.

The meeting reportedly concluded with a “joint proclamation” to replace the bill with a “Jewish-Muslim task force” that would be expected to resolve complaints over the noise levels of the call to prayer in primarily mixed Arab-Jewish neighborhoods in Israel.

After the bill’s initial approval in mid-November, Israeli Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman appealed the bill, a day before it was set to be discussed in the Knesset, fearing that it could inadvertently affect the use of the siren at synagogues to mark the beginning of Shabbat.

The appeal effectively postponed the draft legislation from entering further legislative readings in the Knesset.

However, according to the Times of Israel, the MKs agreed on amending the controversial bill to only apply to overnight hours (from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.), which excludes the time that the Jewish Shabbat siren is broadcasted by synagogues.

Meanwhile, the bill has been slammed by Arab and Islamic leaders around the world, with President of the Arab Parliament, Ahmad Bin Muhammad al-Jarwan saying last week that it was the responsibility of the world to stop the bill for the sake of the Palestinian people.

Al-Jarwan highlighted that the “muezzin bill” was a part of Israeli “racist and oppressive policies” waged against Palestinians in order to intervene in religious affairs and rituals on Palestinian lands, adding that governments around the world, and the UN and UNESCO, should “immediately intervene” to halt decisions that are obstructing the freedom of worship and human rights of Palestinians.

Despite the fact that the bill has yet to be voted on, mosques in Israel and East Jerusalem have already experienced backlash for the potential ban, with a mosque in al-Ludd being fined $200 for using loudspeakers to broadcast the call to prayer.

The mosque's imam said at the time that it was the first time Israeli authorities had imposed such a penalty on the adhan in al-Ludd, calling it “a very dangerous step,” while a local committee of the town called the decision “blind racism.”

Earlier in November, a day after a number of Israeli settlers from the illegal settlement of Pisgat Zeev protested in front of the house of Israeli Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barakat over the ‘noise pollution’ caused by the Muslim call to prayer, Israeli authorities banned the adhan from being projected on loudspeakers in three different mosques in the Jerusalem district town of Abu Dis.

Lawyer Bassam Bahr told Ma’an at the time that Israeli forces raided the al-Rahman, al-Taybeh and al-Jamia mosques in the town, and informed the muezzins that the call for dawn prayer through the loudspeakers was banned.

Bahr added that the forces did not provide any reason for the ban, and also prevented locals living in the eastern part of the town from reaching the Salah al-Din mosque for dawn prayers, and proceeded to condemn the “unjustified ban,” saying that “Israel attacks Palestinians in all aspects of their lives,”

Meanwhile, Adnan al-Husseini, the Palestinian Authority (PA)-appointed governor of Jerusalem, told Ma’an at the time of the anti-adhan protest that the sound of the call to prayer didn’t rise above an agreed-upon decibel level, alleging that Israeli settlers were not annoyed by the noise, but by the call to prayer as a reminder of Palestinian presence in Jerusalem.
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