Dr. Hagai Ben-Artzi, a Bar Ilan University lecturer and brother in-law of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, slammed the government's plan to issue currency with the likeness of Hebrew poet Shaul Tchernichovsky. Turning Tchernichovsky into a “national icon” was a terrible idea and would set a bad example – because of his longtime marriage to a Christian woman, he explained.
“We cannot turn him into a national symbol, since he disdained such an important component of Jewish identity and intermarried, increasing assimilation,” Ben-Artzi said.
Ben-Artzi stressed that his stance had nothing to do with Tchernichovsky's contributions to Hebrew literature. Many of his works contain important Jewish and Zionistic themes, but when it came to putting him up on a pedestal by including his image on the new currency to be issued by the state, his personal life choices could not be overlooked. “We should, and must, study his poetry,” Ben-Artzi said. “There are many positive things in his poems, and some less positive things. My late father, as a literature teacher, used to teach Tchernichovsky's poems.
“But in this case the poet's personal life becomes an issue, as they seek to turn him into a national symbol but putting his image on currency,” Ben-Artzi said. “Someone who intermarried and assimilated cannot be a national symbol for Israel. It is a blow to the basic ethos of the Jewish people, which has been fighting against assimilation and intermarriage.”
Ben-Artzi compared the issue with that of the struggle by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook in the days before the establishment of the state to block the appointment of Max Nordau as the successor to Theodor Herzl to lead the World Zionist Congress. Nordau was married to a non-Jew who could not be converted.