Jerusalem Mayor Pulls Proposal to Name Street After Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz

Moments before final vote, Nir Barkat puts tribute to Leibowitz on hold when council member claims scholar incited against the IDF and was dismissive of 'fundamental Jewish traditions.'

Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger

An initiative to name a Jerusalem street after Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz has turned into an affair, a saga and then a tragedy, and on Thursday turned into what resembled a comedy.

Moments before the ratification of an initiative aiming to pay tribute to Leibowitz – a philosopher, scientist, observant Jew and resident of Jerusalem who did not hide his adamant opinions against the settlements – Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat announced that he is temporarily pulling the proposal, alongside some 20 other potential street names.

Barkat estimated that if he puts the proposal up for a vote, it would be torpedoed by members of the Shas, United Torah Judaism and Likud parties. Barkat's bureau stated that many council members who were in favor of the measure did not attend Thursday's meeting, which is why he did not want to take the risk of having the measure voted down. Barkat's aides further noted that the mayor intends to raise the proposal again later this month, and is certain that eventually a Jerusalem street will bear Leibowitz's name.

Thursday's vote wasn't considered much more than a technical step – the third and last stage in the standard street-naming process. Time and again over the past decade, proposals by leftist parties to name a street after the scholar were blocked by their rightist counterparts. In the past few weeks it finally seemed as though the initiative would get its day, when municipal politicians belonging to Habayit Hayehudi, who were previously opposed to the measure, allowed it to be pushed forward through the preliminary approval stages.

But the process hit a snag when a member of city council, Elisha Peleg (Likud), decided to take the stage at Thursday's meeting and read out several critical statements made by Leibowitz against Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and the late Lithuanian Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach.

Peleg claimed that the late professor said that Yosef was a "stupid fool" and that Auerbach "doesn't understand anything."

"This man hated the IDF and incited against it," Peleg charged. "He dismissed fundamental Jewish traditions and called for discord within the Jewish people.

"Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz of blessed memory needs to pay the price and take responsibility for his irresponsible remarks," he added. "The man isn't worthy of being commemorated in Jerusalem."

The claims prompted members of the religious parties to renew their objections.

"In light of these harsh quotes we are sweepingly voting against (the proposal) and are condemning every word he said against our master," said Eli Simhayoff, the chairman of the municipal Shas faction.

The opposition drew further arguments from supporters of the measure, including council member Yosef "Pepe" Alalu (Meretz), who said that "naming a street after Yeshayahu Leibowitz doesn't just honor the man, it honors the city."

Council member Rachel Azaria (Yerushalmim) further stated that Leibowitz "is one of the most significant figures who paved the way for us religious feminists people who change the world pay heavy prices."

Barkat, who was surprised by the contentious nature of the meeting, cut the discussion short and announced he is taking the proposals off the agenda until further notice.

Other names that were put up for a vote included that of Saadia Marciano, late activist and politician, and Arnan Yekutieli, late deputy mayor of Jerusalem.

Council member Meir Margalit (Meretz) said that while Leibowitz may have expressed contempt for religious texts, the move to dismiss the proposal was "embarrassing."

"The city is making itself a laughing stock," he said.

Yeshayahu Leibowitz.Credit: Alex Levac

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