Anger as Kiryat Malachi rededicates Rabin Square for British philanthropist

Municipality reportedly did not go through proper process when it renamed site after donor to Jewish National Fund

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Kiryat Malachi municipality building. May 9 2012 (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Kiryat Malachi municipality building. May 9 2012 (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

A square in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi that had been named for former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin has been rededicated in the name of a Jewish National Fund donor, sparking outcry among local residents.

The municipality did not make public its intention to repurpose the square, which for the past 24 years had housed a memorial stone dedicated to Rabin, assassinated by a Jewish gunman in 1995.

The site is now called Jack Cohen Square, after a British philanthropist who donated to the UK JNF.

Municipal bylaws allow cities to change place names if they first inform residents of their intention to do so, giving them time to respond. However, changes in locations named after key historical figures require government approval. No such authorization was given to Kiryat Malachi, and no request was filed, Channel 12 reported Wednesday.

Kiryat Malachi resident Meir Vaknin told the network that, for him and other locals, the decision desecrated Rabin’s memory.

“This is a prime minister — how are they not embarrassed to cause harm like this?” he asked. “Either it’s terrible ignorance by city administrators who do not understand the significance of the matter or it’s just meanness.”

The late philanthropist Jack Cohen (courtesy)

Vaknin said the square was recently refurbished and the memorial stone removed. The contractor had initially said the memorial to Rabin would be restored when the job was completed. However, the work was finished two months ago and the memorial has still not been returned. Then on Tuesday, a sign was erected dedicating the square to Cohen.

Elior Amar, who heads the opposition in the municipality, said it is “sad and unfortunate” that after two decades of the square being named after former prime minister and army chief Rabin, it was changed without warning, public discussion or due legal process.

“There is a lot of anger among many residents of the city about the way this was done,” Amar said.

Sources in Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael, the Israeli division of the Jewish National Fund, told Channel 12 that it had not been not involved in the decision to change the square’s name.

The UK JNF said in a statement to the network that the municipality had allocated the square to the organization to memorialize one of its donors.

The Kiryat Malachi municipality said in a statement that, based on a decision by Mayor Eliyahu Zohar, the city’s promenades will be named after the country’s prime ministers.

It said that next Wednesday there would be an official ceremony to dedicate a new promenade at the entrance to the city after former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir. Another section of the promenade, which will soon be completed, will be named after Rabin.

“It is clear to everyone that the promenade is a more worthy and dignified place than the old stone” in the former location, it said.

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