Israel's President Will Sign Controversial Nation-state Law in Arabic to Protest, Activist Claims

Israel's president plans to protest recently passed legislation that officially enshrines the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people and downgrades the status of Arabic from an official language, an activist against the controversial law has claimed.

The Abraham Fund's Dr. Thabet Abu Rass, who hails from Israel's minority Bedouin community and works to support co-existence with the Jewish community, claimed that President Reuven Rivlin has vowed to show his solidarity with minority groups by signing the new law in Arabic.

According to Abu Rass, who spoke to the president during a conference on employment in the Bedouin community on Monday, Rivlin said: "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 Wednesday. The president's office declined to comment on the claim.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin speaks during a joint press conference with his Serbian counterpart in Belgrade, Serbia, on July 26. Rivlin plans to protest recently passed legislation that officially enshrines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. OLIVER BUNIC/AFP/Getty Images

Arabic, alongside Hebrew, has long been an official language of Israel. Earlier this month, Israeli lawmakers passed legislation that declared Jews have "an exclusive right to national self-determination" in Israel and formally defined the country as the "historic homeland of the Jewish people." It also removed Arabic as an official language, granting it only "special" status.

The law has been blasted by critics and minority groups within the country, who have called it "racist" and "apartheid." While Jews make up the majority—about 80 percent—of Israel's 8.8 million population, Muslims, Christians and other religious groups, such as the Druze, hold citizenship in the country as well.

Druze officers in the Israeli military have announced their resignations, citing the law as making them "second-class citizens." Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with leaders of minority groups to discuss their concerns, but Netanyahu reportedly has said he would not consider changing the legislation.

Earlier this week, when meeting minority leaders on Sunday, Rivlin reportedly said, "Our partnership exists at the core and foundation of this state," according to The Times of Israel.

"I expressed my opinion during the Knesset [the Israeli parliament] discussions," he added. "I have no doubt that you are legally equal, and we should make sure that you also feel equal."

While Rivlin has been a lifelong member of the ruling nationalist Likud party and falls squarely on the right of the Israeli political divide—especially on the issue of the two-state solution—he consistently championed equality and mutual understanding between Palestinians and Israelis. Rivlin is fluent in Arabic, and his father was responsible for the first Modern Hebrew translation of the Quran.

Demonstrators attend a rally to protest against the Jewish nation-state bill in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv, on July 14. The original wording of the legislation, which was first drafted back in 2011, used even stronger language to redefine Israel as a Jewish nation. JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images

The original wording of the legislation, which was first drafted back in 2011, used even stronger language to redefine Israel as a Jewish nation. However, Rivlin and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit worked to water down the bill before it was passed.

According to Israeli media, the bill has become a "basic law," meaning it enjoys constitutional status and can shape case law, also making it more difficult to repeal than normal legislation.

After the legislation's passage, Hassan Jabareen, general director of Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, criticized the government's decision as discriminatory and racist.

"By defining sovereignty and democratic self-rule as belonging solely to the Jewish people—wherever they live around the world—Israel has made discrimination a constitutional value and has professed its commitment to favoring Jewish supremacy as the bedrock of its institutions," Jabareen said in a statement.