Israel's prime minister says the public expects the government to "return to normal conduct" amid a coalition crisis that could force early elections.

Benjamin Netanyahu's comments at the beginning of Sunday's weekly Cabinet meeting were his strongest yet since talk of early elections erupted following discord within the government over a contentious bill that aims to officially enshrine Israel's status as a Jewish state.

Netanyahu says such legislation is needed in order to defend Israel's right to exist. Critics say it would undermine democracy and make the country's Arab minority second-class citizens. Netanyahu called for an end to mudslinging and threats by legislators to bring down the government.