Shekels as tools of the regime

Salman Masalha

Shekels as tools of the regime


The issuance of new bills with pictures of writers is a chance for the government to show its concern for Arab citizens - writer Emile Habibi for instance.
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Let’s talk about money and power. More precisely, the subject is the set of symbols that can be found in any wallet. The media reported recently that the Bank of Israel will be issuing new banknotes. Instead of portraits of political leaders, the bills are supposed to carry likenesses of writers and poets.

Banknotes move from one person to another, and as they circulate they represent a way for the regime to inculcate its messages. Bills have glorified the ruler and memorialized key events during his reign. It’s very important to read the fine print, we’re told. And it’s true, you have to read what’s printed on the notes, not just the amount of money they represent. You can grasp the essence of a government by perusing the bills it prints.

So let’s say a few words about Israeli banknotes. They have more than financial value; they have added political value. The paper money in Israel apparently serves as an organ of Zionist propaganda. Anyone killing time in a queue can stop and scrutinize lines attributed to former President Zalman Shazar on the NIS 200 bill and consider where his tax money is headed: “And despite the darkness of the dispersions, each community had to engage teachers of children at the expense of all its inhabitants. The wealthy and indigent, those with many children and those without, single and married people − all had to bear the burden of Torah study.”

Someone else on line can study words attributed to another former president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, on the NIS 100 note: “Our goal is to cultivate, as much as we can, the process of uniting hearts among all tribes of Israel that are returning to the homeland.” And also: “I believe that only a single, consolidated, united force will be able to fulfill this people’s exalted historic destiny; only such a force will be able to defeat any assailant and enemy.”

Nor are the holy city and the Temple neglected in people’s pockets. The city is depicted on the NIS 50 bill in the following words, written by novelist S.Y. Agnon: “All the time I felt as though I had been born in Jerusalem. In my dreams I saw myself standing with the Levites at the Temple, singing hymns to King David − harmony that has not soothed any ear since our city was destroyed and its people dispersed.”

Former Prime Minister Moshe Sharett declares on the NIS 20 bill that finally Jewish soldiers and a Jewish army have arisen as a wall of defense for all Jews: “In every generation, Jews were exiled from the Land of Israel to offset those who immigrated to it. This time, thousands left the country not as victims of weakness but as exponents of strength. For the first time since our exile, soldiers from a Jewish army went to the front as members of a people rooted in its land, and possessors of its own culture.”

Indeed, all citizens, particularly Arab citizens, should read the fine print on every shekel to understand their place. Using symbols, the regime fosters Arab citizens’ alienation from the state. The most conspicuous example is the lack of Arab writing on police cars, vehicles that symbolize the rule of law in a state that is supposed to be the state of Arab citizens as well.

The issuance of new bills with pictures of writers is a chance for the government to show its concern for Arab citizens. For instance, the writer Emile Habibi ‏(1922-1996‏), an Israel Prize winner, could have been added to this list of currency-honored figures. Yet once again, the government has failed a test. It appears that an Arab citizen in the State of Israel isn’t even worth a shekel.
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Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, April 24, 2011

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