Paying the Piper, With Poets

Bank of Israel to put wordsmiths on new banknotes, after governor gives in on demand to include politicians Begin and Rabin on bills

Starting next year the images of four of the great poets in Hebrew literature will appear on our banknotes: two women, Leah Goldberg and Rachel (Bluwstein ), and two men, Shaul Tchernichovsky and Nathan Alterman.

That was the recent decision of the Bank of Israel's Committee for the Planning of Banknotes, Coins and Commemorative Coins, headed by former Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel. Yesterday Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer approved the committee's recommendations and will soon submit them for government approval.

The intention is to print the new series of banknotes in 2012. It has yet to be decided which poet will appear on which banknote: NIS 100, NIS 50, NIS 20 and NIS 200. The decision on this subject is supposed to be made soon. At present, the Bank of Israel does not plan to print a NIS 500 banknote. State of the art anti-counterfeiting features will be incorporated into the new series. Some will be printed on polymer, like some of the NIS 20 banknotes at present.

The Turkel committee's decision ended a long dispute between Governor Stanley Fischer and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, regarding who will appear on the banknotes. According to the old Bank of Israel law, the governor, with the consent of the finance minister, decides whose faces will appear on Israeli banknotes. At the beginning of the dispute, the finance minister demanded that cultural figures, and not only politicians, appear on the new banknotes, and that at least one woman be among the new faces.

About three months ago, after his previous proposal was rejected by the finance minister, Fischer informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, behind Steinitz's back, that he had decided that the new banknotes would bear the pictures of two former prime ministers, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin, as well as those of poet Rachel and Nobel Prize laureate S.Y. Agnon.

Fischer's proposal provoked considerable anger because of the way it was done and because it was known that the Begin family is opposed to commemorating their father on a banknote.

Fischer tried to enforce his opinion, but Likud ministers, including Limor Livnat, Yuval Steinitz and Benny Begin, said they would oppose the move. Fischer met with Livnat in her office and, after being convinced that his proposal would encounter opposition, returned to the Turkel committee with new instructions.

Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat said yesterday: "I welcome the decision by Governor Stanley Fischer to accede to my demand and to commemorate Shaul Tchernichovsky, Nathan Alterman, Leah Goldberg and Rahel on the new banknotes. I'm pleased that the governor has decided to honor the request of the Begin family not to print the picture of Menachem Begin on one of the new banknotes. About two and a half months ago, I turned to the governor regarding the matter and later we also met in my office. I greatly admire the governor's decision to take into account the opinions and reasons I presented to him, in the final analysis. As minister of culture, I believe that the glory of the government actually lies in commemorating our male and female cultural heroes on the new banknotes."