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Israeli rift grows over proposals for 'Jewish state'

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Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has become a vocal campaigner against racism since taking office last August. AFP/Getty Images

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has become a vocal campaigner against racism since taking office last August. AFP/Getty Images

AFP/Getty Images

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has become a vocal campaigner against racism since taking office last August. AFP/Getty Images

Reuven Rivlin, the Israeli president, has lent his weight to mounting criticism of a bill that would officially define Israel as a Jewish state, calling it a threat to Zionism that plays into the hands of the country's enemies.

His intervention represents the most authoritative attack yet on the proposed legislation, which has been labelled "racist" by critics and which has left Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government deeply split.

The bill - approved by the Cabinet on Sunday and subject to a parliamentary vote that has been postponed until next week - would classify Israel as the "nation state of the Jewish people" while effectively denying the country's Arab minority, 20pc of the population, collective national rights.

Addressing a conference in the southern port of Eilat, Mr Rivlin - who has become a vocal campaigner against racism since taking office last August - added his voice to those who said the proposed legislation prioritised Israel's Jewishness over its status as a democracy.

"What is the point of this bill? Does this proposal not in fact raise questions about the success of the Zionist enterprise?" said Mr Rivlin, who is an opponent of Palestinian statehood. "Does this bill not in fact play into the hands of those who seek to slander us? Into the very hands of those who wish to show that even among us, there are those who see contradiction between our being a free people in our land, and the freedoms of the non-Jewish communities in our midst?"

Mr Rivlin also questioned the legislation's timing, coinciding with rising tensions between Jews and Arabs after a series of deadly "lone wolf" Palestinian attacks that have left 11 people dead.

"Precisely now, in these days of brutal and murderous terrorism that has killed people from our midst, it is incumbent upon us to reiterate to ourselves: Jewish is democratic, democratic is Jewish," he said.

He added that the bill would "not strengthen the State of Israel's Jewish character, but will weaken it", before ending his speech with the words: "Long live Israeli democracy."

Mr Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has championed the legislation - promoted by Ze'ev Elkin, a Right-wing member of his Likud party - as a response to those whom he says challenge the right of Jews to live in Israel.

He has been accused of backing the bill to curry favour with hard-line Likud grassroots. His stance has threatened the future of his coalition.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent