A proposal to make mosques reduce the loudspeaker volume of their call to prayer has sparked uproar among Israel's Muslims, underscoring their already deteriorated relationship with the country's Jewish majority. Supporters of the bill, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have painted it as a matter of quality of life. But it has deepened a sense among the Arab minority that it is being increasingly marginalized by his hardline government.
"The call to prayer came before the racists. The call to prayer will remain after the racists," said Ayman Odeh, head of a joint list of Arab parties in parliament.
A planned vote on Wednesday was blocked after ultra-Orthodox Jewish lawmakers raised concerns that it could also affect the sirens that announce the start of the Jewish Sabbath and holidays in many communities.
The bill, which received initial support from a committee of Israeli ministers this week, proposes to limit the volume of public address systems of all houses of prayer in Israel. The bill's sponsor, a lawmaker from a nationalist Jewish religious party, made clear the target is mosque loudspeakers, and it has been dubbed the "muezzin bill," referring to the man who delivers the call to prayer.
Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel see the initiative as yet another affront by an increasingly hostile Israeli society and leadership. Some detractors have said the bill is unnecessary, since Israel already has rules regulating excessive noise. Still, it has garnered support from many secular liberals who normally are at odds with Netanyahu's conservative government.
Zvi Barel of the liberal Haaretz newspaper said he would support efforts to limit the place of religion in the Israeli public sphere if the bill wasn't discriminatory. "Israeli liberals, whether Jewish or Arab, can't support this excellent bill, because it is intended to harm Muslims," he wrote in an op-ed.
"I think the whole law is unnecessary," Health Minister Yaakov Litzman told Israeli Army Radio Wednesday, adding that he would support an amended bill that made an exception for Jewish sirens. A ministerial committee will revisit the bill.
Israel's parliament gave preliminary approval on Wednesday to a bill that would enable the retroactive legalization of Jewish settlement outposts built on privately-owned Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.
The United States has described the measure, promoted by far-right members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition, as "troubling" and said it could pave the way for the legalization of dozens of outposts, built without Israeli government authorization, deep in the West Bank.
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