As it has in Jerusalem and other cities, the Muslim call to prayer has become an issue in the municipal elections in Tel Aviv. On Wednesday, Likud activists distributed flyers promising to “return Jaffa to Jewish hands, starting with turning off the muezzin,” the Mosque official who calls the faithful to prayer.
Residents regularly complain that the loud calls to prayer - some late at night and in the early hours of the morning - disturb non-Muslim residents, and are unnecessary. Instead, residents see the proliferation of Islamic minarets and loudly broadcast prayers a part of a growing Islamist presence in he city.
“In recent years Jaffa has been taken over by Islamist groups that are attempting, under a mask of religious and educational activities, to separate Jaffa from Tel Aviv, and to divorce it from Israel altogether,” said Arnon Giladi, Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor and head of the Likud-Beyteinu faction on the city council.
In recent years, there have been numerous reports of attacks by Arabs against Jews in the streets of the city, and major demonstrations by Islamist groups. In 2011, over 1,000 Arabs, many of them Jaffa residents, protested Israel's existence on “Nakba Day,” the day Arabs mourn the creation of the state. Last March, three Jaffa Arabs were arrested for scrawling anti-Semitic graffiti. Last June, police arrested a 16 year old Arab teen for burning Jewish holy books. And there has been an ongoing problem with vandalism in the Jewish cemetery in Jaffa, with graves desecrated and headstones defaced with Arabic graffiti.
“We promise to repair the situation and develop a plan that will ensure that Jaffa remains a part of the State of Israel, and has a Jewish atmosphere,” said Giladi. “It is unacceptable that just a few kilometers from the center of the city we will have a Palestinian autonomous zone that is hostile to the values of the state,” he added.
In response, the chairman of the Jaffa branch of the Southern Islamic movement, Wahl Mahmoud, said “over the past several years we have had excellent relations between Arabs and Jews. We coexist in a manner that cannot be seen anywhere else in Israel. We respect synagogues and Jewish holidays.
“But if they try to start problems over the call to prayer, they are in for a real fight,” Mahmoud said of the flyers. “It is not noise, but a part of the 'soundtrack' of Jaffa, which includes the call to prayer and church bells. I live near the border of Bat Yam, near a Breslov synagogue, where they go out into the street to recruit people for prayers. I am happy to see someone reminding people of their religious obligations,” he said.