MK Ahmed Tibi on Tuesday condemned plans to name a new space center in his central Arab village Taiba after Israel’s first and only astronaut, the late Ilan Ramon.

In a letter to the Science and Technology Ministry, the United Arab List-Ta’al MK said Ramon served in the IAF as a fighter pilot, which could offend the Arab community.

Calling the decision “distasteful” and “unjustified,” Tibi noted that during Ramon’s military service, he attacked civilian targets in Lebanon and participated in the attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor.

“Upon receiving my invitation to the space center’s opening ceremony, I was very surprised to see that it was being named after Ilan Ramon,” Tibi said. “Although I admit the circumstances of his death were tragic, I don’t think it is appropriate to name a space station in an Arab village after him.”

Ramon was killed in the 2003 Columbia space shuttle crash along with six other crew members. His son Asaf was killed in an F-16 plane crash six years later.

Responding to Tibi’s comments, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi) said the center would be named “after an Israeli hero who was instrumental in fighting Islamic terrorism both inside Israel’s borders and outside.”

Herschkowitz said that all of Israel’s space centers were named after Ramon and if Tibi did not want Taiba’s center named after him, Taiba would not receive a space center.

“I do not accept these ridiculous and provocative assertions [by Tibi] that the name would be acceptable in Ra’anana but not in Taiba,” Herschkowitz said, referencing a predominantly Jewish city along the coast.

Gadi Ramon, the brother of the fallen Israeli astronaut, challenged Tibi to decide whether or not he wants to be a member of the State of Israel.

He added that he does not view being an Arab and being a Zionist as mutually exclusive.

“I work with many people from the Arab sector and they treated my brother with respect and admiration,” Army Radio quoted him as saying.

Yisrael Beytenu MK David Rotem said this was another in a long line of incidents proving that Arab MKs work against the interest of their constituencies.

“He is willing to give up on a space center that would educate Arab children just in order to avoid honoring an Israeli hero,” Rotem said. “Apparently, instead of naming the center after Ramon, Tibi prefers to name it after the infamous terrorist who was known as the engineer, Yihye Ayash.”

UAL leader Ibrahim Sarsur released a statement in Arabic defending Tibi and calling upon Taiba to return the funding for the space center to the ministry.

“Israel’s attempt to impose its culture on our institutions is unacceptable,” Sarsur said. “I can’t imagine Israel naming a center for the study of peace in Tel Aviv after Yasser Arafat, so it is illogical to accept naming an institution in an Arab city after an Israeli pilot.”

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