Arab MK Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List) demanded Tuesday that the soon-to-be-opened space center in the Israeli Arab city of Taybeh not be named after the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who was killed when the space shuttle Columbia crashed in 2003.
“I was very surprised when I read that the center will be in the name of Ilan Ramon. While he is a pilot who died under tragic circumstances, it is unnecessary to name a space center in an Arab town after a fighter pilot who participated in the bombing of the civilian population in Lebanon. It’s bad taste and not justified,” Tibi told Army Radio on Tuesday.
Ramon, in addition to being the first Israeli astronaut, served in the IAF as a fighter pilot. Tibi also cited Ramon’s participation in the Israeli attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor as a reason not to name the Taybeh space center after him.
Such a move, warned Tibi, “may offend local inhabitants and the Arab sector in general.” Instead, the MK suggested calling the Taybeh space center after an Islamic pilot and scientist who studied astrophysics.
Science Minister Daniel Hershkowitz responded to Tibi’s critique, calling Ramon an Israeli hero and accusing Tibi of crossing a red line.
Hershkowitz added: “The purpose of establishing the center [in Taybeh] is to promote the periphery. It was established specifically to promote… the same population that claims, sometimes rightfully, discrimination… the center was established by the State of Israel. Ilan Ramon was the first and only Israeli astronaut so far, so the center established by the State of Israel was naturally named after him. ”
The Ramon Foundation, established by the astronaut’s widow Rona, released a statement on Tuesday stating that “the Ramon Foundation will continue to invest in young people regardless of ethnic origin or place of residence in the belief that the future lies in the quality of the younger generation.”
Ilan Ramon and six other crew members were killed when the Columbia space shuttle broke up over the United States upon reentry in 2003.