Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday tried to assuage public distress over the total omission of Sephardi poets in favor of their Ashkenazi counterparts on Israel’s new proposed banknotes.
“Next time, we’ll depict representatives from Sephardi Judaism [on banknotes],” the prime minister said at the weekly cabinet meeting ahead of a vote on the decision to implement the new bills.
“The bills are lovely and they touch our souls with poetry. I agree with those who say that there is a place for those from the Sephardi community and other communities. I present a concrete proposal that the first person to be among the next set of bills is Rabbi Yehuda Halevy, whose poetry I deem as genius,” Netanyahu said.
In a Facebook post Sunday morning, Economics Minister Naftali Bennett asked, “Where is the legacy of Sephardi Judaism?” He went on to say that he would insist that the face of a Sephardi poet will also be included among the bills.
Tunisian-born Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom said he was also convinced that a Sephardi poet could have been included, as did Moroccan-born MK Aryeh Deri (Shas) — who also called on Knesset members not to approve the bills as is.
MK Esawi Frij (Meretz) criticized the decision to not even consider an Arab poet among the bills.
“Sixty-five years have passed since the establishment of the state, and the Arab population is still not considered part of the society, not in symbols and not in essence,” said Frij.
The Knesset is due to approve on Sunday morning the new NIS 50 bill depicting Shaul Tchernihovsky, the Russian-born Hebrew poet, and the new NIS 200 bill with the image of Natan Alterman, the Polish-born playwright, poet and journalist. Both bills are due to go into circulation this fall.
In the spring of 2014, Israel will introduce the new NIS 20 and NIS 100 bills, with depictions of Rachel Bluwstein Sela (Rachel the poetess) and Leah Golderg, respectively.
According to reports, Israel’s current banknotes will be phased out by 2017.