Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) has asked Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi) to cancel the plan to name a new space center in Tayibe after Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut.
Ramon was killed along with six other crew members of the Space Shuttle Columbia when it disintegrated upon re-entry on February 1, 2003.
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MK Tibi explained his request by saying that during his service as a fighter pilot in the Israel Air Force Ramon took part in "bombings of civilian populations during the first Lebanon war and in attacks in other Arab countries."
Ramon for shuttle launch (Archive photo: NASA)
Ramon participated in Israel's 1981 air strike on Iraq's unfinished Osirak nuclear reactor. His son Asaf was killed in a crash while flying an Israel Air Force F16-A in 2009.
The new space center in Tayibe is being funded by the Prime Minister's Office and the Ramon Foundation. Tibi, a resident of the city, said naming the center after Ramon "may hurt the feelings of the residents and the Arab public in general."
In a letter to Minister Hershkowitz, the lawmaker said he was "shocked to find out that the space center in Tayibe will be named after the pilot Ilan Ramon. Despite the Ramon family's tragedy and its activity (in the field of space travel), we are talking about a fighter pilot who took part in air strikes on civilian populations during the Lebanon war and in attacks in additional Arab countries.
"Dedicating a center in his honor in an Arab community is a tasteless and unjustified move," the MK wrote.
Tibi suggested naming the center after a Muslim space scientist or simply calling it the "Tayibe Space Center."
Hershkowitz said in response that building a space center in the periphery is part of his ministry's plan to "make science accessible to the entire population and help narrow the gaps within Israeli society."
The minister said Tibi "crossed a red line" and is "causing great damage, particularly to the public he represents, and to Israeli society as a whole.
"All space centers (in Israel) are named after Ramon, and if Tayibe does not want a space center named after him, it won't have a space center at all," Hershkowitz said. "You can’t accept State funds and at the same time ridicule one of its heroes, who fought devotedly against Islamist terror, both in Israel and abroad."