The latest flashpoint between Israeli Jews and their Arab neighbors highlights the extent to which the conflict between them touches every aspect of daily life.
Earlier this month, Israeli lawmakers proposed a bill that would require all houses of worship to lower the volume of their public address systems. While the vaguely worded proposal made no outright accusation, the bill’s sponsor, a lawmaker from a nationalist Jewish religious party, admitted the legislation is aimed at Muslim mosque loudspeakers.
Dubbed the “Muezzin Law,” after the man in the minaret who chants the call to prayer, the bill has grabbed international headlines and sparked an uproar among the country’s Muslim minority.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims the proposal is not about religion—it’s just about the noise. The Muslim call to prayer sounds five times daily, with the pre-dawn prayer sometimes blasting as early as 4 a.m.
“I cannot count the times … that citizens have turned to me from all parts of Israeli society, from all religions, with complaints about the noise,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet this week. He affirmed his commitment to defend all people of all faiths “from the loudness of the excessive noise.”
But the country already has laws against noise pollution, and critics say the loudspeaker initiative is an example of flagrant racism.
“The real aim is not to prevent noise, but rather to create noise that will hurt all of society and the efforts to establish a sane reality between Jews and Arabs,” wrote Nasreen Hadad Haj-Yahya, a scholar with Israel Democracy.
Of Israel’s 8.4 million people, 17 percent are Arab Muslims. Arabs often are poorer and less educated than the Jewish majority and sometimes are accused of disloyalty to the government.
“This bill is the ugly product of Islamophobia that has come to dominate Israel,” Thabet Abu Ras of the Abraham Fund, an organization promoting peaceful Israeli-Palestinian alliances, told Al Jazeera.
On Sunday, the Palestinian National and Islamic Forces, which includes Hamas and Islamic jihadists, threatened to unleash war on Israel if the bill passed.
But analysts say it’s important to remember the bill hasn’t passed. Even if it does, it likely will be struck down by courts as unconstitutional. Parliamentary pushback already has delayed its progress. Last week, ultra-Orthodox Jewish lawmakers backtracked support for the bill, voicing concern it could affect the use of synagogue sirens announcing the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.
Neri Zilber, a Tel Aviv-based journalist and researcher on Middle East politics and culture, believes the bill is a diversion tactic floated by the Israeli government to deflect tension from weightier issues in the country.
“It’s a controversy du jour,” Zilber said. “With Netanyahu embroiled in legal scandals, and the West Bank due for more demolitions in December, it’s useful to get people talking about something else.”
On the international stage, Zilber believes media outlets are focused on the bill because it fits into their narrative about Arab oppression: “It’s a clear-cut example of potential discrimination that supports pre-conceived notions about Israel. There is much more freedom in Israel than people realize.”
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Publication date: November 29, 2016