x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Netanyahu backs ban on loudspeaker muezzin

The Israeli president Shimon Peres said he was ashamed of the proposal, being viewed as an attempt to antagonise Israel's Arab minority, and others like it.

TEL AVIV // Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is backing legislation to ban mosques from using loudspeakers to call the faithful to prayer.

The proposal by the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, led by the far-right foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, is being viewed as an attempt by hard-liners in Mr Netanyahu's coalition to antagonise Israel's Arab minority.

If approved, the new law would ban loudspeakers from all houses of worship, but they are used mainly in mosques.

The Israeli president Shimon Peres said he was ashamed of the proposal and others like it. Mr Peres said he had received complaints from world leaders about what has become known as the "Mosque Law". He said: "This is simply a march of folly … I am personally ashamed there are attempts being made to pass such laws." The proposals "tarnish our image", he told Israel's largest-circulation newspaper, Yedioth Ahronot.

Mr Peres's comments were published on a day when about 50 Jewish settlers vandalised military vehicles and lit fires at an army base on a closed military zone in the northern West Bank.

Against that backdrop, Mr Netanyahu plans to bring the loudspeaker legislation to a vote by his cabinet as soon as next week after he failed to muster enough support to pass it at a session on Monday.

The bill would still need to win parliamentary approval.

Explaining his backing for the legislation in a meeting with ministers of his Likud party, he said there was “no need to be more liberal than Europe”, in an apparent reference to the 2010 Swiss law that forbids mosques from having minarets.

Proponents of the bill have defended it as an accepted norm in the western world.

Mr Lieberman said on Monday the proposed law was “legitimate”.

Anastassia Michaeli, the Yisrael Beiteinu lawmaker who proposed the bill, insisted she was not aiming to silence the Muslim call to prayer and that her bill was not meant to be a religious or political repression but rather “an environmental matter”.

But despite her insistence, opponents of the legislation say Israel already has a law that aims to reduce noise and targets parties, car alarms, leaf-blowers and even musical lessons at certain hours.

However, the law, which came into effect last year, has been insufficiently enforced.

Mr Peres said Israel doesn’t “have to raise the ire of all the Muslims in the Arab world against us”.

He said there was “no democracy without tolerance. You cannot separate Judaism from democracy. There is no such animal”.

Amir Fuchs, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem-based think tank, said Mrs Michaeli’s bill was “a sweeping ban that undermines freedom of religious worship even in cases where the noise level is perfectly reasonable”.

Israeli-Palestinian members of Israel’s 120-member parliament this week threatened to appeal against the bill if it becomes law.

One of them, Raleb Majadele, demanded in a letter to the parliamentary speaker that the bill be cancelled on the grounds of racism and called it a “dangerous and anti-democratic initiative that hurts a religious ritual” that has been respected by Israel since its creation in 1948.

Israel has more than seven million citizens, of which its Arab minority accounts for about 20 per cent, mostly Muslim.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by the Associated Press