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The committee chose four poets - Rachel, Shaul Tchernichovsky, Leah Goldberg and Natan Alterman to appear on the new banknotes incurring the wrath of Shas party chairman Aryeh Deri, who lashed out at the absence of iconic figures of Mizrahi extraction.
Asked why a Sephardic figure was not chosen to appear on the new bills, Raz replied, "If there was someone predominant figure they would have definitely been added to the list. I am simply not familiar (with anyone), you could say that this committee is ignorant, but 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.
"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."
Raz added that "everyone interviewed on the radio today, mentioned Yehuda Halevi. They did not name any others. I am waiting for more names. If there were more names, I would have said, 'okay, maybe we made a mistake," but when I look at the names (chosen), I am pleased with them."
The committee member added, "we didn't think about the idea of Mizrahi descent. At first we thought of Sephardic poetry and someone suggested Yehuda Halevi, but professionals in the field said there is no picture of him." According to her, "it could be that this bothers people. It could be that next time five Mizrahim will be added instead."
The new bills
The criticism on the identity of the poets being commemorated on the bills – and especially their origins – began on Friday when MK Aryeh Deri, called on the governmental to reject the new bills. "It is unacceptable that they didn't even find one Mizrahi poet, whose image can be imprinted on the bills. Money with a Mizrahi figure on it isn't worth less."
The new bills will be imprinted with the images of Rachel the Poetess (NIS 20) Shaul Tchernichovsky, (NIS 50), Leah Goldberg (NIS 100) and Natan Alterman (NIS 200). Two of the them (the NIS 50 and NIS 200 bills) will be issued soon, and two others in the spring of 2014. The old banknotes will be entirely removed from circulation in 2017.
The Rambam (Photo: Bank of Israel website)
Since printed currency bills were first issued in Israel, they featured only one distinct Mizrahi figure – Maimonides (Rambam), with some including the Sephardic-Italian Moshe Montefiore.
Israel's first NIS bills in 1959 presented images with no sectorial marks: A woman farmer, sailor, worker, scientist and settlement pioneers.
But on the 1969 series Albert Einstein, Hayim Nahman Bialik, Chaim Weizmann and Theodor Herzl – all Ashkenazi – were honored.
Maimonides, the first Mizrahi on an Israeli bill, has been featured only since 1980.
Prior to Sunday's Knesset plenum, criticism on the issue reverberated. "Where is the Sephardic heritage?" asked Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett on his Facebook page and declared "in the Knesset plenum I will insist that a Sephardic Jewry poet will be included in the new banknotes."
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