[Mosque loudspeakers on a minaret in an Israeli Arab town in the north. (Photo: Emil Salman)]
Jerusalem: Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spoke out on Tuesday against a controversial bill that would prohibit mosques from using loudspeakers to summon believers to prayers early in the morning, also urging the members to vote against the controversial bill.
Rivlin on Tuesday hosted in his Jerusalem residence a meeting of religious leaders “seeking to bridge gaps over the issue of the muezzins,” the Muslim lay officials charged with calling the faithful to prayer, a statement from his office read.
“I thought that perhaps such a meeting could have an impact on the whole public and that it would be a shame that a law should be born which touches on the issue of freedom of faith of a specific group among us,” he was quoted as telling participants.
Rivlin, whose post is mainly ceremonial, considers the new legislation - supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – unnecessary, Al Arabiya reported.
The draft law, which sparked outrage around the Arab and wider Muslim world, is set to be submitted for its preliminary reading in parliament on Wednesday. Its original form was amended last week in order not to affect the sirens that announce the start of the Jewish day of rest at sundown each Friday.
“The president believes that the existing legislation on noise levels is able to answer problems arising from this issue, alongside dialogue between the different faith communities in Israel,” Rivlin’s spokesperson Naomi Toledano Kandel said.
Israeli media reported that after the meeting, Rivlin telephoned Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and encouraged him to enable members of his Kulanu faction to vote against the bill.
Israeli government watchdogs have baulked at the proposed legislation, describing it as a threat to religious freedom and an unnecessary provocation.
Arab Israeli lawmaker Ahmed Tibi has vowed to appeal to the High Court of Justice if the Sabbath siren is excluded from the scope of the bill on the grounds that it discriminates between Jewish and Muslim citizens. The law would apply to mosques in annexed Arab east Jerusalem as well as Israel, but not to the highly sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third-holiest site, according to an Israeli official.
The bill’s sponsor, Motti Yogev of the far-right Jewish Home party, said, “The legislation is necessary to avoid daily disturbance to the lives of hundreds of thousands of non-Muslim Israelis.”
In a Sunday phone call, Rivlin told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Israeli legislative initiatives about prayers would be “considered with sensitivity, as any matter of freedom of speech and religion should be.”
Also on Wednesday, parliament will vote on a bill to legalize thousands of West Bank settler homes built on private Palestinian land, but also affording landowners compensation.
Israel currently considers such homes to be illegal, while the international community considers all settlements, including those authorized by the Israeli government, illegal.