Israel's President Reuven Rivlin has voiced his opposition to the controversial "Jewish nation-state" bill which aims to grant national rights to Jews only.

The proposed law was put forward by the governing coalition of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and defines Israel as the "nation-state of the Jewish people".

The bill caused outrage with many claiming that, if turned into law, the legislation would exempt the state from the responsibility to protect the rights of non-Jewish communities, such as the Israeli Arabs, who make up to 20% of the country's population.

Critics fear that the proposed law, approved by the Cabinet on Sunday (23 November), would make Israel less democratic as it would undermine the country's Declaration of Independence, which states that Israel "will affirm complete social and political equality for all its citizens, regardless of religion, race and gender".

Rivlin voiced his opposition to the bill during a conference in the city of Eilat, southern Israel.

"Does this bill not in fact play into the hands of those who seek to slander us?" he asked. "Into the very hands of those who wish to show that even among us, there are those who see contradiction between our being a free people in our land, and the freedoms of the non-Jewish communities in our midst?

"The declaration of independence, in its depth and greatness, bound together two components of the state as Jewish and democratic, democratic and Jewish," the president continued.

Netanyahu, one of the main supporters of the bill, clarified that while national rights - such as self-determination and free immigration - would be reserved for Jews, civil rights would be still guaranteed for all the non-Jewish people under existing laws.

The legislation was also condemned by former defence and foreign affairs minister Moshe Arens.

"We don't need legislation to make Israel a Jewish state, and you cannot make it a Jewish state by legislation," he wrote in a column for newspaper Haaretz.

"Not only is the proposed law unnecessary, it is harmful. A quarter of Israel's population is not Jewish, and probably the most important item on the nation's agenda should be their integration into the fabric of Israeli society and their participation in the Israeli economy. Giving them the feeling of being at home, of being equal citizens."

Tzipi Livni, the Justice Minister, said in an interview with Channel 2: "I will not give a hand to this bill. I am prepared to be fired over this issue."