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Israeli lawmakers debate changes to bill restricting Muslim call to prayer

June 19, 2018 4:03 P.M. (Updated: June 21, 2018 12:01 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Constitution Committee in the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, will reportedly discuss on Tuesday the controversial “Muezzin Law,” which heavily restricts the use of loudspeakers to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer in Israel.

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

The initial bill called for barring the use of loudspeakers for any religious or "inciting" messages as part of the call to prayer.

Israeli news daily Haaretz reported that the committee will debate changes to the highly-condemned bill, which was introduced by right-wing Israeli ministers in 2016, in preparation for it’s first vote.

“Because the bill doesn’t have sufficient backing from the coalition, committee members are expected only to call on the police to increase enforcement against noise nuisances based on existing laws,” Haaretz said.

According to Haaretz, the bill’s legislation was halted in January after ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties announced they would not support it.

The groups’ refusal to support the bill marked a significant departure from the time of the bill’s preliminary reading in 2017, when the parties supported it after the Friday-afternoon sirens announcing the advent of Shabbat were excluded from it.

The exclusion of Jewish and Christian traditions from the bill caused outrage among Palestinian citizens of Israel -- both Muslim and Christian -- and rights groups, who argued it was racist and directly targeting the Muslim community in the country.

The renewed discussions on Tuesday will reportedly deal with two bills that would prohibit the operation of a public address system in a house of prayer that emits “loud or unreasonable noise.”

The bills would give the Israeli environment minister, with the approval of the interior minister, the power to determine “under what circumstances loudspeakers would be permitted,” Haaretz said.

Haaretz added that “one version of the bill would imposed a minimum fine of 5,000 shekels ($1,379) on houses of prayer particularly mosques, that make announcements at hours prohibited by the law. The fine could rise to up to 10,000 shekels for each violation.”

Palestinian communities in Israel and occupied East Jerusalem have long been targeted by discriminatory Israeli policies, whether through “divide and conquer” tactics, attempts at forcibly displacing Bedouin communities, and what has been denounced as a policy of "Judaization" of Jerusalem at the expense of other religious communities.

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