Politics

President Reuven Rivlin hosts an interfaith meeting of Jewish and Muslim leaders at the President's residence in Jerusalem on November 29, 2016
Draft law, which sparked outrage around the Muslim world, has its first reading in parliament on Wednesday

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday said that the government needs to "tread a fine line," with the controversial bill to quiet mosque loudspeakers as he hosted an inter-faith meeting of Jewish and Muslim leaders.

During the meeting held at the President's residence in Jerusalem, Rivlin said that "In our lives together there are issues which are very close to the hearts of many of the residents of this country. Jerusalem has always brought together the various voices, the Jewish prayers with the Muezzin’s call to prayer along with the Church bells. I am the son of one who translated the Quran and observed the Jewish commandments, and I recognize the need to tread a fine line.”

The draft law, which sparked outrage around the Arab and wider Muslim world, is set to be submitted to its first reading in parliament on Wednesday.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews initially opposed the bill, fearing Jewish rituals could also be affected. Its original form was amended last week to not affect the sirens that announce the start of the Jewish day of rest at sundown each Friday.

Rivlin considers the new legislation -- supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- unnecessary.

“I asked to sit and speak with you in order to see if there is a way to tread this line even when there are conflicts," he told the gathering. "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. Perhaps the voices heard today can be used to pave the way."

The call to prayer, or adhan, is broadcast five times a day between dawn and night-time, at different hours according to the time of year.

The bill was originally put forth by Habayit Hayehudi MK Moti Yogev and had been intended to prevent the broadcasting of nationalistic messages and incitement over mosque loudspeakers. It was reworded following criticism and now cites excessive noise as the reason for prohibiting the use of loudspeakers. The al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem would be exempted from the legislation.

The proposed legislation has been condemned by government watchdogs and by the leaders of other countries. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the bill “irrational” and “conscienceless.”

Arab Israeli lawmaker Ahmed Tibi has vowed to appeal to the High Court of Justice if the Shabbat siren is excluded from the scope of the bill on the grounds that it discriminates between Jewish and Muslim citizens.

Rabbi Aryeh Stern, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem agreed that an interfaith dialogue on the subject was needed and noted that such dialogue could "pull the rug from under the need for such a bill to be passed."

"I think it should be a joint call, which on the one hand will stop the legislation itself and on the hand will deal with the places where the volume of the muezzin is an issue," Rabbi Stern added.

President of the Islamic Sharia Court Sheikh Abdel al-Hakim Samara said that allowing the law to pass without dialogue "causes us to feel that our freedoms are vulnerable."

"Solutions can be achieved even without the threat of the law looming over our heads," he continued, adding "We all agree there is a need to lower the volume in problematic areas and we will act to ensure this, regardless of the law."

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