New shekel notes 370.
(photo credit: Courtesy Bank of Israel)
The cabinet on Sunday approved two new Bank of Israel designs for shekel
banknotes amid criticism that none of the four poets slated to grace the
currency were Sephardi.
Prior the cabinet meeting, Economy and Trade
Minister Naftali Bennett wrote on his Facebook profile that he will insist that
a Sephardi poet be included on the new money, and posted a poem by Rabbi Yehuda
Halevi: “My heart is in the East, but I am at the end of the West.”
poem was written in the Middle Ages, and expresses the endless longing of the
Jewish people for the Land of Israel,” Bennett wrote.
approved on Sunday featured poets Shaul Tchernichovsky, a two-time winner of the
Bialik Prize for Literature, on a green NIS 50 note and Natan Alterman, an
author, playwright, poet and newspaper columnist who won the 1968 Israel Prize
for Literature, on a blue NIS 200 note. They will enter circulation later this
The personalities planned for the other notes, whose basic designs
were also approved on Sunday and are expected to enter circulation in early
2014, are Rachel the Poetess, a leading poet in modern Hebrew whose works have
been set to music, on a red NIS 20 note and Leah Goldberg, a poet, author,
playwright, literary translator and researcher who translated War and Peace into
Hebrew, on an orange NIS 100 note.
Responding to the criticism at the
meeting, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu promised that a poet of Sephardi
origin would appear on the next set of notes.
“I heard the criticism on
the lack of Sephardi presence on the notes, and I agree that there was room and
is room to bring representatives from the Sephardi community and other
communities, and to include representatives of Sephardi poets in the next
round,” he said, echoing Bennett’s call to feature Yehuda Halevi.
further displeasure remained with the symbolic shortcoming on the national
currency, as Meretz MK Esawi Freige lamented the lack of Arab poets on
“We haven’t seen even a hint of intention to put a non-Jewish
image on money,” he said. “Sixty-five years have passed since the state was
established, and the Arab public is still not considered part of it, not in its
symbols or in more significant ways.”
While it is commendable to put
poets on money, Freige added, Israeli-Arab writer Emile Habibi is more than
worthy to be printed next to the others.
This controversy is not new.
Originally, the new notes were to feature politicians, but an outcry that they
neglected the country’s humanities changed that.
A subsequent list was
nixed for lack of gender equality. When the government approved the list of
poets drawn up by an independent committee in April 2011, it faced similar
criticisms about lack of racial diversity.
The Bank of Israel said that
updating the currency was important because it allowed them to add new
technology to make counterfeiting more difficult. The new bills, for example,
will all be different sizes, and the bank promises to reveal further details on
the notes new security features in the coming months.
The current faces
on Israeli currency, introduced 15 years ago, are former prime minister Moshe
Sharett on the NIS 20 note; S.Y. Agnon on the NIS 50 note; and former presidents
Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and Zalman Shazar on the NIS 100 and NIS 200 notes.JTA
contributed to this report.