Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, has allegedly said that he will sign the nation-state law in Arabic to protest against the divisive bill.
Rivlin reportedly made the comment to Dr. Thabet Abu Rass, an activist who works for the Abraham Fund, a group dedicated to supporting Jewish-Bedouin coexistence. Rivlin had been attending a conference in the Bedouin village of Kuseife, east of Be’er Sheva in the south of Israel, when Abu Rass asked him to speak out against the law. Rivlin responded “I can’t refuse to sign the law, because then I will have to resign. But if I sign it – I will sign in the Arabic language,” the Times of Israel reported.
The Times of Israel added that Rivlin’s spokesperson has since refused to confirm or deny the comment.
In response, Israeli MK Avi Dichter, a member of the ruling Likud party, called out the president’s alleged comment. Dichter told Israel’s Army Radio: “The law states that Hebrew is the official language of the state. I do not think that the president of Israel should go against the spirit of the law and not sign the law in Hebrew,” the Jerusalem Post reported.
President Rivlin has been a vocal critic of the nation-state law, issuing a rare statement in July against the plan to allow Jewish-only towns and strip the Arabic language of its status as an official language of Israel. Rivlin said he was “concerned that the broad nature of this article, that has no balance, could harm the Jewish people and Jews around the world and in Israel, and could even be used by our enemies as a weapon.” He continued: “Take a look at Israeli society and ask: in the name of the Zionist vision, are we willing to support discrimination and [the] exclusion of men and women based on their ethnic origin?”
The nation-state law has since drawn criticism from numerous quarters, including Russia, Egypt, Turkey and human rights observers Amnesty International. The move has also sparked a fierce debate with some of Israel’s minority communities, which comprise approximately 24 per cent of the population, over their place as Israeli citizens. This week several members of the Druze community, who have historically been loyal to the state, refused to continue to serve in the Israeli army in protest at the new law.
The Presidential role in Israel is largely ceremonial, with the president acting as a figurehead of the government. The president is required to sign laws passed by the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, which is currently ruled by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition of five political parties.