JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday defended his government's approval of a law determining Israel's status as the national Jewish homeland, after President Reuven Rivlin criticised the proposal.
The cabinet on Sunday endorsed by 14 to six a proposal to anchor in law Israel's Jewish character, in a move critics said would come at the expense of democracy and institutionalise discrimination against minorities, including Arabs.
"The aim of this law is to guarantee the future of the Jewish people on its land," Netanyahu told parliament, hitting back at "those who want to question the national right of the Jewish people (to live on) this land."
On Tuesday, President Rivlin, who also hails from Netanyahu's rightwing Likud party, said he did "not understand the interest of this law."
"Placing the state's Jewish character before its democratic character puts into question its principles in the declaration of independence, which stated Israel's Judaism and democracy were values of equal importance," Rivlin said during a speech in the southern port city of Eilat.
Israel's identity is already contained in its 1948 declaration of independence, according to the Israel Democracy Institute, which said that the new proposal fails to emphasise "commitment to the equality of all its citizens".
Netanyahu insists the law will balance Israel's Jewish and democratic characteristics.
The country's parliament, the Knesset, is to vote on the law on December 3.
Critics, who include the government's top legal adviser, say the proposed change could institutionalise discrimination against its 1.7 million Arab citizens -- descendents of the 160,000 Palestinians who stayed after Israel was established in 1948.
The Palestinian leadership said Tuesday the law would "kill" Middle East peace prospects "by imposing the project of a 'greater Israel' as well as the Jewishness of the state upon the historical land of Palestine."