Israeli bills
Israeli billsIsrael news photo

The Bank of Israel governor’s decision to revamp the figures eternalized on Israel’s paper currency is not as easy as he thought, and it is now up for review.

It was announced last week that Israel’s four paper currency bills would undergo a revamping, particularly in the choice of figures to be engraved upon them. Zalman Shazar, Israel’s third president, is currently featured on the red, 200-shekel bill; second president Yitzchak Ben-Tzvi marks the beige 100 note; Nobel Literature Prize winner Shai Agnon is featured on the 50; and the green, 20-shekel bill bears the image of Moshe Sharett, Israel's second prime minister.

Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer originally announced that their places would be taken by David Ben-Gurion, Binyamin Zev Herzl, Menachem Begin and Yitzchak Rabin. Both Herzl and Ben-Gurion have been featured on Israeli bills in the past.

A mild storm of objections immediately arose. For one thing, Begin’s family asked that its father be removed from consideration. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz has already proposed that Begin’s place be taken by a woman, preferably the famous poetess and composer Naomi Shemer.

In addition, some voices in the nationalist camp protested the choice of Yitzchak Rabin. In a letter to the Currency and Coins Council of Bank of Israel, activists Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir wrote, “Rabin was a very controversial figure, and an entire population sector of residents of Judea and Samaria and nationalist activists feel that Rabin caused inestimable and indescribable damage to the State of Israel.

“Rabin signed an unprecedented surrender agreement with a band of terrorists and murderers,” the letter states, “and is responsible for the transfer of tremendous amounts of weapons that led to many Israeli deaths. Engraving his image on paper bills brings the political debate into the Bank of Israel. There are countless numbers of people who are not controversial who could have been chosen for this honor without arousing such debate and rancor. Even those who support Rabin would certainly not want to create a situation of marring his memory.”

Ben-Gvir and Marzel even hint at a boycott of bills that feature Rabin’s likeness.

The final decision on the faces to be eternalized on Israel’s new currency will thus be made not by Fischer, but by the Currency and Coins Council. It council is headed by former Supreme Court Justice Yaakov Turkel.  Fischer asked the council to prepare a new list that “takes into account the public reactions to the list that was announced.”

Bank of Israel announced that replacing the bills, scheduled for the year 2012, is designed, inter alia, to improve anti-forging efforts, and to increase public awareness to the people, symbols and values that play an important role in shaping the history of the State of Israel.”