Former President Shimon Peres on Thursday came out against the Jewish nation-state bill, calling it an attempt to "subjugate the Declaration of Independence to fleeting political needs."
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Peres attended a memorial service honoring Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, at his home and burial place, the Negev kibbutz of Sde Boker. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and current President Reuven Rivlin also attended the commemoration.
"The nation-state bill could rattle the nation and destroy Israel's democratic status at home and abroad," Peres said. "Ben-Gurion's voice demands that we be what Israel was meant to be – a model state that is sane and enlightened, and seeks justice, equality and peace."
Netanyahu also referenced Ben-Gurion's legacy, and hinted that it is consistent with the bill, which seeks to define Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. "Ben-Gurion didn’t see the Declaration of Independence as the final word," Netanyahu said. "It was a stage, important, but just a stage in the process of defining Zionism. Ben-Gurion emphasized the fact that Israel was the Jewish nation state."
Deflecting criticism that the bill is racist and discriminatory against Israel's Arab population, Netanyahu said, "Ben-Gurion wasn't racist. He was a Jewish patriot, a democrat. One thing was clear to him: Israel is the state of the Jewish people and only our nation can fulfill our Jewish yearnings here." Netanyahu added that Israel would protect the rights of minorities who are being persecuted in other countries in the region.
Rivlin, who this week criticized the bill, said that state governance is based on national responsibility. "I would like to believe that the Israeli public and its leaders have not forgone and will not forgo the values and language that unite us," Rivlin said.
The vote on the bill, which had been postponed until next Wednesday, has been deferred to an unknown date.