President Rivlin Bashes 'Jewish State Law'

Despite holding supposedly non-political position, Rivlin opposes bill claiming 'democracy is Jewish' and denying contradiction of the two.

Ari Yashar ,

Reuven Rivlin
Reuven Rivlin
Mark Neyman/GPO/Flash 90

After disinviting popular singer Amir Benayoun from an event over a song critical of Arab Israeli terrorists, President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday disparaged the "Jewish State Law" at the Annual Conference of the State Prosecutor in Eilat.

The conference, entitled "To be a minority in our country," featured talks by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua), an opponent of the law, as well as Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, who a court recently ruled has shown a "scandalous" bias against members of the political right.

Rivlin began by saying Arab citizens are not a minority in Israel, stating "close to quarter of the children in first grade are Arab," and noting Arabs currently make up a fifth of Israel's population. The president has been criticized of courting the Arab vote by taking some unsavory positions, including supporting traitor ex-MK Azmi Bishara, fighting for him to keep receiving a pension even after he helped aim Hezbollah missiles and fled Israel.

"The State of Israel is the national state of the Jewish people," said Rivlin. "A small, abhorred minority, undermine this fact, both from within our own and from outside, and so, we must ask ourselves seriously, what is the point of the proposed law - Israel: The National State of the Jewish People."

"Does the promotion of this law, not in fact, question the success of the Zionist enterprise in which we are fortunate to live? Does this proposal, not in fact encourage us to seek contradiction between the Jewish and democratic characters of the state?" asked Rivlin.

The bill, which  passed a crucial cabinet vote on Sundaywould emphasize Israel's Jewish character while retaining the democratic rights of all citizens. It relegates Arabic to a "special status" language instead of an official language, and stipulates "the right to realization of national self determination in Israel is exclusive to the Jewish people."

However, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is strongly backing the bill, has said he will amend the bill to make it more "moderate," equalizing Israel's Jewish and democratic status and keeping Arabic as an official language, leading some to question the point of the watered down version.

Rivlin's criticism echoes that of the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) Executive Committee, which on Tuesday said the law would spell the end of the "two state solution."

In attacking the law, Rivlin claimed "Judaism and democracy, democracy and Judaism, said as one utterance, are combined, and continue to be so...Jewish is democratic and democracy is Jewish."

The law highlights contradictions between Israel's democratic and Jewish nature, contradictions Rivlin mentioned and claimed do not exist.

Leading the push to face this question was former MK Rabbi Meir Kahane hy''d, who posed the question of whether Arab citizens have the right to become the majority in Israel and vote the Jewish state out of existence. As Rabbi Kahane argued, according to democracy Arab citizens certainly have that right, but according to Judaism no such right exists.