Jerusalem mayor shelves plan to name street after Yeshayahu Leibowitz

Resistance to move by religious and right-wing city council members leads Nir Barkat to postpone vote

Yeshayahu Leibowitz (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Yeshayahu Leibowitz (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat put the brakes on a motion to name a street in the city after Orthodox liberal philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz on Thursday, following dissent by council members from right-wing and religious parties.

The proposal to honor the outspoken intellectual, first raised a decade ago, had passed two municipal naming committees and was supposed to receive final approval in the Thursday city council meeting, but Likud councilman Elisha Peleg began reading out quotes by Leibowitz attacking Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, raising the ire of the religious council members, and leading Barkat to remove the vote from the agenda.

Leibowitz, who managed to spark endless controversy during his years in the media spotlight — regularly issuing provocative statements on the topics of ethics, religion, and politics, staunchly advocating a separation of religion and state, and urging that Israel relinquish territory captured in the 1967 war — carried on his legacy from the grave. Peleg said that the deceased Hebrew University professor and Israel Prize selectee “must take responsibility for his irresponsible statements … The man does not deserve to be memorialized in Jerusalem.”

While left-wing council members defended the decision to name a street after Leibowitz — one saying it was more of an honor for the city than the man, and another suggesting that if Leibowitz doesn’t deserve a street named after him than neither do the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah, who also suffered criticism and anger for their words — Barkat decided to postpone the vote until more council members were present and chances of the motion passing were increased.

Barkat’s office said the mayor was sure the motion would pass later this month. If passed, the city will name one of the streets in the Givat Ram neighborhood — which is home to Israel’s Supreme Court, the Knesset, government ministries, the Israel Museum, and one of the city’s two Hebrew University campuses — after Leibowitz.

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