Israel's former president has come out against a bill floated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that would define Israel as "the Jewish state."

At a ceremony alongside Netanyahu on Thursday, Shimon Peres said the legislation was driven by political interests, would hurt the country's image and erode Israel's "democratic principles."

Israel's declaration of independence defined Israel as both Jewish and democratic.

Netanyahu's bill seeks to enshrine that status at the constitutional level. But critics say the wording would upset the balance between those two ideals, undermining its democratic character and harm the rights of Arab citizens.

Peres, who retired earlier this year, joined his successor, Reuven Rivlin in opposing the bill.

The presidency is a largely ceremonial office that is meant to serve as a moral compass for the nation.