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Israelis to debate ban on Muslim call to prayer

TEL AVIV – The Israeli towns of Rosh HaAyin, which is mainly Jewish, and its neighbor, Kfar Kassem, a mostly Muslim town, enjoyed a peaceful relationship – until now.

The Israelis have had enough of their neighbors’ call to prayer.

They claim that the traditional call to prayer, which occurs five times a day, is a nuisance and disturbs their daily life. The 4:50 a.m. call is considered especially annoying.

“We hear the call to pray very loud, the situation is unbearable,” a local Rosh HaAyin resident was quoted as saying in the Hebrew version of the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper.

Another resident said, “We must find a way that we will not be disturbed and that they will be able to continue with their rituals.”

The issue is headed to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, this Sunday. 


Anastassia Michaeli, a member of the Knesset, will put forward a bill proposing a ban on mosques using loudspeakers to announce the call to prayer.

Her proposal stipulates that “religious freedom doesn’t need to harm the quality of life.”

Oded Balilty / AP

Israelis protest as they call for support of democracy in Israel, in Tel Aviv, Israel on Nov. 22, 2011. Approximately 2,000 protesters rallied in Tel Aviv against the series of Knesset bills they see as draconian and anti-democratic.

Michaeli, who belongs to the right-wing political party, Yisrael Beiteinu, led by the ultra-nationalist foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, knows her bill will cause outrage among Muslims and among Israeli human rights groups. While Israel is a Jewish state, approximately 17 percent of its 7.4 million people are Muslim, according to a 2008 census. 

But she is adamant her new bill is not a “mosque bill.” Rather, she says, it is a “noise bill” aimed at improving quality of life, indicating that synagogues and churches also will be asked to adhere to laws restricting how much noise they can make. 

Mosques have been using loud speakers to announce the call to prayer in the country for decades, leading some to ask: Why is there a move to ban them now?  

Long list of controversial bills
It seems to be just the latest in a wave of controversial bills that have been introduced during the two years since Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed his right-wing coalition government.

Those bills, which haven’t all become laws yet, but are in various stages of legislation, include: 

-limiting donations from foreign countries to human rights organizations in Israel;

-a defamation law curtailing the media;

-outlawing calls for political boycotts on Israel or the settlements

Sebastian Scheiner / AP

An Israeli singer sings during a rally against gender segregation, in Jerusalem, on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011. Hundreds of women's rights activists gathered in central Jerusalem for a rally themed

- and the so-called “Nakba Law” that punishes groups that associate Israel’s Independence Day with a day of mourning (Palestinians commemorate the day after Independence Day annually as a “day of catastrophe”).
 
These bills have gotten the world’s attention – including from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She voiced her deep concern about the growing influence of ultra-orthodox groups on Israel’s society during a closed discussion at the Saban Forum at the Brookings Institution in Washington last Saturday, according to media reports.

Clinton criticized the wave of anti-democratic legislation and especially the exclusion of women from public life in Israel in the wake of limitations on women singing in public and growing gender segregation on public transportation.

She said the requirement that women are forced to ride in designated sections on some bus routes in Israel reminded her of segregated busing during the civil rights era in the U.S.

Men and women are segregated on public transportation in some ultra-Orthodox Jewish areas of Israel. 

'We will fight this bill'  
But Patin Issa, a Muslim who is the director of the Kfar Kassem municipality, said the new bill will not add honor to the state of Israel. 

“We will fight this bill, there is a minority here and it is the country’s duty to protect its long heritage and rituals,” Issa told NBC News. He added that this is a very delicate matter that needs to be handled “with silk gloves.”

He said that he is willing to work with the Israeli authorities to find a solution that will work for both sides, but that a one-sided bill is not the answer.