A bill that would regulate the traditional use of loudspeakers for the Muslim call to prayer passed its first legislative hurdle in Israel’s Parliament on Wednesday, provoking frustration and anger among some Arab lawmakers.
One version of the bill would prohibit places of worship from using loudspeakers between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., while another would ban any broadcast over such speakers regardless of the time of day if it is deemed “unreasonably loud,” the BBC reported. The first daily prayer is traditionally performed before sunrise.
Both versions passed with slim majorities, but a final draft requires further approval from Parliament before becoming law.
Opponents describe the legislation as an attack on religious freedom that targets the five daily calls to prayer. Supporters describe it as something closer to a noise ordinance.
“Israel is committed to freedom for all religions, but is also responsible for protecting citizens from noise,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in November, when his ministers approved an earlier version of the proposal and sent it to the Parliament.
Zouheir Bahloul, a member of Parliament belonging to the center-left Zionist Union, disagreed, calling the bill “dangerous” in a translated interview with i24, an Israeli television station.
“We’re talking about small politicians who are trying to persecute the Arab minority in the country,” he said. “It’s a stain on the forehead of Israeli society and the state of Israel. In the book of laws, this law is the blackest.”
Some Arab lawmakers ripped up copies of the legislation during a debate. One, Ayman Odeh, the leader of an alliance of Arab parties known as the Joint List, was thrown out of the chamber after doing so, according to the BBC.
When the ban was proposed in November, it was denounced by Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
“The call to prayer is a symbol of Islam,” Adel Elfar, the imam of a mosque in Lod, a city of Arabs and Jews in Israel, said at the time. “This is something that’s existed for 1,426 years.”