New Israeli banknotes raise Ashkenazi-Sephardi friction

The Bank of Israel presents a new set of bills amid accusations of cultural discrimination, that feature the likenesses of only famous Ashkenazi poets.


The cabinet authorized on Sunday the issuance of newly designed paper money for NIS 50 and NIS 200 notes.

A stack of shekel bills.

A stack of shekel bills. – Photo: Moti Kimche

The new bills are to enter circulation at the end of 2013. Their designs feature the likenesses of famous Hebrew poets. Criticism has been aired at the selection of the poets, who are all Ashkenazi Jews.

According to the plan that Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer presented to the cabinet, Shaul Tchernichovsky is to feature on the new NIS 50 note, which will be green.

A new, primarily blue NIS 200 note will carry the likeness of Natan Alterman. Next year, the plan calls for two more new designs with poets – a new NIS 20 note with the picture of Rachel Bluwstein (better known simply as Rachel the Poet), and a NIS 100 banknote with Lea Goldberg.

A public committee chose the four literary figures.

At the opening of Sunday’s government conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented on the criticism aired at the selection of portraits:

“The Governor of the Bank of Israel will present the new bills today. They are pretty, and touch our heart through poetry. I agree with those who say that there was, and is room, for including representation of the Sephardi communities, and others as well. I have a concrete proposal – that the first choice for the next set of bills will be Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, whom I consider one of Israel’s greatest poets, and regard his poetry as genius, and of great importance to our cultural heritage. But certainly there will be other suggestions. You are welcome to submit your own to the next Governor of the Bank of Israel.”

MK Arieh Deri (Shas) said Sunday that ‘the approval of the new bills this morning is symptomatic of the way the authorities treat the Mizrachi population.’

“The exclusion of Mizrachi jews exists in the High Court, in academics, in the media, in the selection of the Israel Prize, in the current government, and now also in the bills. […]  A bill with a portrait of a Mizrachi isn’t worth less.”

“We will not be satisfied by declarations and promises,” he added, “we will fight discrimination with all the tools at our disposal, for the benefit of the discriminated Mizrach public.”

MK Isawi Freij (Meretz), in turn, suggested the new bills be graced by a portrait of Israeli-Palestinian writer Emile Habibi.


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