Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Why no Mizrahim on Israel's bank notes?

 Shaul Tchernichovsky features on Israel's new 50-shekel bill

Whoever chose to feature four Ashkenazi poets on Israel's new bank notes failed to show any sensitivity to Mizrahim, argues Dan Margalit in Israel Hayom (with thanks: Lily):

Four portraits will grace the new shekel bills to be printed soon -- all of them of poets: Nathan Alterman, Leah Goldberg, Shaul Tchernichovsky and Rachel the poetess. All four are worthy of being featured on the currency. 

But still there was a significant outcry, because all four are Ashkenazi. There is not a single Mizrachi poet among the lot. Jacob Turkel, the head of the committee that decided on the design of the new bills, remarked that this argument was antiquated, that its time has passed and that in this day and age, it is a negligible concern. It isn't of any interest to anyone. 

Turkel is right, but he is also wrong. If the criteria for appearing on the bills is being a poet from the time of the British Mandate in Palestine or Israel's early years, not only are the four poets worthy of being selected, during that time there nearly weren't any Mizrachim in Palestine/Israel, and the ones that were here didn't write poems. But someone with an iota of sensitivity would have established a different set of criteria in the first place, and enabled the committee to consider Shalom Shabazi of Yemen, or, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested, Yehuda Halevy, whose poetry resounds around the world and whose longing for the Land of Israel and for Jerusalem is entirely consuming. ("Beautiful land, Delight of the world, City of Kings, My heart longs for you from the far-off west" and " Won’t you ask after, O Zion, the weal of your captives.")

No one set out to put Ashkenazim ahead of Mizrachim, or to willfully discriminate, but someone -- and each time it is a different someone -- failed to show the required sensitivity toward the various sectors of Israeli society. The criticism is warranted, and it is wrong to reject it outright. After all, if the committee had selected four male poets -- perhaps Avraham Shlonsky and Yehuda Amichai instead of Leah Goldberg and Rachel the poetess -- the inevitable outcry from the women's groups would have been entirely understandable. So the women's complaint would have been legitimate but the Mizrachim's isn't? Why? 

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