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Israeli ministers endorse proposal to silence mosque call to prayer

Proposal would ban amplified sound from 11pm to 7am, restricting the first Muslim call to prayer just before dawn
Israeli flag waves in front of minaret of mosque in Arab quarter of Jerusalem's Old City (AFP/file photo)

Israeli ministers on Sunday endorsed a contentious draft bill that Muslims say is meant to silence the traditional call to prayer, information released by the justice ministry showed.

A list of draft legislation put to the vote in the powerful ministerial committee on legislation marked the "bill for prevention of noise from public address systems in houses of prayer" as having "passed".

It gave no further details.

Approval by the committee, chaired by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the far-right Jewish Home party, means that the draft will now go before parliament as a government bill.

If the bill passes its initial reading in the Knesset, expected to take place on Wednesday, it will be sent back to the committee, after which it will again come before the plenum for its second and third readings prior to becoming law, the Times of Israel said. The backing by the ministerial committee gives the bill coalition support.

Violators of the proposed legislation would be fined $2,600, according to a copy of the legislation.

While its heading makes no mention of any specific religion, the bill has become commonly known as the "muezzin law" after the lay Muslim officials charged with calling the faithful to prayer, often through powerful speakers mounted on minarets.

An earlier draft was rejected because it might have silenced the siren sounded in Jewish areas at sunset on Friday to mark the start of the Sabbath.

The revised version bans amplified sound nightly, from 11pm to 7am, and so will affect the first of the five daily Muslim calls to prayer just before dawn.

"This law does not deal with noise nor with quality of life, just with racist incitement against a national minority," MP Ayman Odeh, who is a Palestinian citizen of Israel and head of the Joint Arab List, said in a statement.

"The voice of the muezzin was heard here long before the racists of the [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu government and will be after them," he said.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has spoken against the bill, which has sparked outrage around the Arab and wider Muslim world, saying that he believes existing noise pollution regulations provide a solution.

If passed into law the bill 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, also of the Jewish Home, says the legislation is necessary to avoid daily disturbance to the lives of hundreds of thousands of non-Muslim Israelis.