High-tech money for a high-tech nation

High-tech Israeli banknotes follow US $100 bill’s lead

With a slew of new security features, the first of Israel’s new generation of money comes out this week

The front of the newly designed NIS 50 banknote (Photo credit: Courtesy)
The front of the newly designed NIS 50 banknote (Photo credit: Courtesy)

To keep counterfeiters at bay, governments around the world are required to make their currency into a “moving target” — modifying designs, adding small, unnoticeable (except to experts) features, and flipping details. And once in awhile, according to Moti Fine, the Bank of Israel’s currency director, “a state needs to change the way its currency looks,” because that’s what countries do, he said in an interview.

For both reasons, said Fine, Israel is doing just that. Last year, the Bank of Israel announced that it was coming out with a “line” of new shekel bills, all to be equipped with the latest technology that would make it extremely difficult for counterfeiters to duplicate Israeli money.

This week, the BOI released the final version of the design for the 50 shekel note, the first one that will be put into circulation. The new bill should start showing up later this year, if the Bank sticks to its current release schedule.

The NIS 50 note includes security features that are being incorporated into all of the shekel bills’ designs, similar to those that were introduced in the new version of the US $100 bill released last year. Among those features is color shifting, with the color of portions of the bill changing depending on how you hold it, along with latent images which can only be seen at a certain angle, and an iridescent look that some have described as nearly glowing in the dark. And the bills’ denominations – the 20, 50, 100 and 200 shekel notes – will have different lengths, something that will not only make them harder to counterfeit, the Bank said, but also assist the blind in differentiating between bills.

In a television interview, Fine declined to delve too deeply into the security details, saying that the Bank wanted to stay as far ahead of counterfeiters as possible. In a statement, the Bank said that they “will be secure and very advanced, in line with global technological trends, in order to maintain confidence in the currency and economic stability in Israel. The developments in banknotes, the increased level of counterfeits around the world, and the technology that counterfeiters possess require the Bank to bring the banknotes’ standards in line with the challenges of coming years.”

In addition to the security features, the new bills have a new color scheme; for example, the new NIS 50 note is predominantly green, instead of purple, as it is now. In the interview, Fine said he was not worried that Israelis would get confused between the new NIS 50 note and the old NIS 20 note, which is also green (the new one will be red). “That bill is going out of circulation as well, and the new notes are a different size and have a different feel than the old ones, so no one will get confused,” Fine said.

Why start with the NIS 50 note? “It’s not because it’s more counterfeited, but because it’s the least popular bill,” said Fine. “If there is a problem and we have to go back to a redesign, it will be easier to recall the NIS 50 note. If Israelis can successfully use the NIS 50 note, we can release the rest of the bills.” Assuming all goes to schedule, the NIS 200, and then the NIS 100 and 20 notes will be released in late 2014 and early 2015.

Before they were even designed, the new bills got into hot water with several segments of Israeli society. Instead of politicians, the Bank of Israel decided to feature Israeli poets, choosing four – one for each of the notes – and all of them from Ashkenazic (European) backgrounds. Political leaders and advocate groups accused the Bank of racism for ignoring poets of Middle Eastern (Sephardi/Mizrachi) background.

An indignant Economics Minister Naftali Bennett was joined by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself to suggest putting an image of 12th century poet and author Rabbi Judah Halevy on one of the notes. In response, former judge Jacob Turkel, who chaired the currency’s design committee, said that there were no images of Halevy to work from, and that the whole ethnic argument in 21st century Israel was “trivial and stupid.” The NIS 50 note bears the portrait of the poet Shaul Tchernichovsky.

According to Fine, the new bills will “co-exist” with the ones currently in circulation for several years — giving Israelis plenty of time to get used to the new money, and trade in their old bills for new ones.

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