Like any government office, the Israel Philatelic Service, the division of the Israel Postal Company which produces the state's postage stamps, is careful not to offend its constituents. The service invests a lot of time and resources into every new stamp the state issues, aiming for aesthetically pleasing, historically meaningful and politically neutral images.
"The stamps are an official symbol of the State of Israel and are sold to the entire population," Yaron Ratzon, the director of the Philatelic Service, told Haaretz. "We take care that the topics, illustrations and pictures will not offend the sensitivities of any one group."
But sometimes protecting one group may offend another.
Last week Haaretz reported on the service's decision not to use a picture from 1948 of a young woman working at the Ayalon Institute, a secret ammunition factory that operated before the state was established, producing bullets for the Haganah, then an underground paramilitary organization. The service cited the woman's "bare legs" as the reason for rejecting the photo.
It turns out, Haaretz learned yesterday, this wasn't the first time the Philatelic Service censored a stamp for fear of offending the religious public.
In 2000, the service issued a stamp to encourage proper oral hygiene for children. The stamp featured Adam and Eve with fig leaves covering their genitals and Eve tempting Adam to eat candies from the Tree of Knowledge. Righteous Adam turns away with a large, defiant toothbrush in hand.
The dental hygiene stamp was the inspiration of Dr. Haim Galon, editor of Haaretz's now defunct stamps section. In the original version, Galon wrote in a letter to the editor, the toothbrush was drawn "in a very strategic place on the man's body." Ultimately, it was moved a few millimeters higher so as not to offend the religious public and the whole affair passed without complaint, wrote Galon.
The Philatelic Service nevertheless did manage to offend a number of Haaretz readers recently when they nixed the photo of the woman in the Haganah factory. One of them was Prof. Rafi Goren of the Hebrew University's Faculty of Agriculture in Rehovot who said he was shocked by the Philatelic Service's decision.
"There is no doubt whatsoever that the institute is worthy of being commemorated on an Israeli stamp," he wrote. "We must appreciate in any way possible the sacrifice of women for the establishment of the State of Israel."
In response, Ratzon pointed out that the Philatelic Service is dedicated to ensuring that 50 percent of figures on its stamps are women.
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