Paper Money

There's some controversy over this Israeli note

The Bank of Israel is issuing an updated 20-new-sheqel bank note depicting poet Natan Alterman. The note’s release brought renewed charges about a lack of representation of Israelis of Middle Eastern descent.

Original images courtesy of the Bank of Israel

Below is the first of three columns from Arthur L. Freidberg discussing international paper notes:

Soon after the news was publicized on Nov. 23 that the Bank of Israel will release in December an updated 20-new-sheqel note, an old political controversy reemerged. It was an incendiary accusation of discrimination by a member of the government. As reported by the media network Arutz Sheva, the claim is that the new currency discriminates against Israelis of Middle Eastern descent (Mizrahis).

Aryeh Deri, member of parliament and chairman of the ultra-orthodox Shas party, revived the same charges he first made two years ago. Deri claimed that in the 67 years of Israel’s existence, its Middle Eastern population has not received the proper representation in popular culture, media, and government and he was determined to change it. A good place to start, he said, was on the nation’s currency.

The new note was long in planning and is the second release in the “C” Series of the new shekel that the Bank of Israel says “are all to carry the portraits of outstanding Hebrew poets whose life stories, works, and activities are intertwined with the story of the rebirth of the Nation of Israel in its land.” 

This one, vibrant blue on both sides, features Natan Alterman. Alterman was born in Warsaw in 1910, arrived in what was then Palestine in 1925, was active in the Zionist struggle for independence, and is considered a major force in modern Hebrew literature. Along with a large portrait of the poet, the design features autumn leaves, moonlit flora and segments from two of his poems. 

When asked about the lack of Mizrahi representation in 2013, Sari Raz, a member of the selection committee, told YNEt News: “If there was someone predominant figure [sic] they would have definitely been added to the list. I am simply not familiar [with anyone] ... I don’t really know any outstanding Mizrahi poets from the 20th century who are studied in schools, who youngsters write and learn about or whose words are composed into melodies and sung.” She added, “I am not familiar [with anyone like that] if you are — give me a suggestion. If anybody else knows [of someone] — they should give me suggestions.” 

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