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Israeli Arab anger as parliament backs ‘muezzin bill’

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Reuters

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Israeli Arab MP Ayman Odeh tore up a copy of the bill during a heated debate in the Knesset

There were angry scenes in Israel’s parliament on Wednesday as preliminary approval was given to a bill that would restrict the use of outdoor loudspeakers by religious institutions.

Two versions of the so-called “muezzin bill”, which would mostly affect Muslim calls to prayer, passed their first readings by slim majorities.

Some Arab MPs ripped apart copies of the legislation during a debate.

The bill will have to go through further readings before becoming law.

One version of the bill would ban all places of worship from using loudspeakers between 23:00 and 07:00. The other would prohibit the use of speakers considered “unreasonably loud and likely to cause disturbance” at any time of day.

They are amendments of a draft approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet in November.

Mr Netanyahu said at the time that he had received numerous complaints from all parts of Israeli society “about the noise and suffering caused them by the excessive noise coming to them from the public address systems of houses of prayer”.

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About 80% of Israeli Arabs are Muslim

One of the bill’s sponsors, Motti Yogev of the Jewish Home party, said on Wednesday that it was “first and foremost a piece of social legislation which will allow people to relax during rest hours, Arabs and Jews alike”.

“There is no wish to hurt the believers of any faith,” he added.

The bill’s critics say it as an attack on religious freedom.

“The voice of a muezzin has never caused any environmental noise. It is about an important Islamic religious ritual, and we have never in this house intervened in any religious ceremony related to Judaism. Your action is a racist slur,” warned Ahmed Tibi of the Arab-dominated Joint List alliance during the debate.

“Your intervention strikes at the very souls of Muslims,” he added.

Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List, was thrown out of the chamber after tearing up a copy of the bill.

Arab citizens of Israel, also known as Israeli Arabs, are descendants of the 160,000 Palestinians who remained after the State of Israel was created in 1948. They make up about 20% the Israeli population.

About 80% of Israeli Arabs are Muslim; the rest are divided, roughly equally, between Christians and Druze.


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