Israeli street names: Politicians out, artists in

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In an era of political correctness, expect more streets to be named after Sephardi Jews and women, Prof. Maoz Azaryahu tells "Globes."

Street names reflect Israel's history and in the past Zionist visionaries and the State's founding fathers have dominated from Theodore Herzl, Chaim Arlozorov and Zeev Jabotinsky to David Ben Gurion and Moshe Sharet. But according to Prof. Maoz Azaryahu, head of the University of Haifa's Herzl Institute for the Study of Zionism, trends are changing with artists being preferred to politicians.

Prof. Azaryahu, who has extensively researched the subject and published a book called "Named After" about Israel's street names told "Globes" "Artists are consensus. Who would object to a street named after Naomi Shemer? In fact the most popular names for streets are for trees, like Tamar (datepalm), Dekel (palm) and the like. These names are especially popular in rural settlements where they reflect quality of life. Artists too are also a type of quality of life - cultural quality of life."

The facts on the ground support this observation. Songwriter and poet Naomi Shemer (she wrote Jerusalem of Gold), who died in 2004, has streets named after her in many locations around Israel including in Yavne, Kiryat Bialik, Holon, Kfar Saba, and Akko.

In contrast former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who managed to alienate both left wing and right wing people during his political career, and who died in 2014, only has streets named after him in two of Israel's 30 largest cities - Jerusalem and Givatayim. Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who died in 2012, has fared better than Sharon with streets named after him in four cities - Beersheva, Ashdod, Petah Tikva and Givat Shmuel.

Meanwhile the musician Uzi Hitman who died in 2004 and the writer Dvora Omer, who died in 2013 both have four streets named after them in Israel's 30 largest cities. Singer and lyricist Arik Einstein who died in 2013, singer Yaffa Yarkoni who died in 2012 and actress Hannah Maron who died in 2014 are all popular choices for street names.

Some cities have taken policy decisions to completely overlook both politicians and artists. Lod, for example, decided to name all new streets after Old Testament characters such as the three Patriarchs for Matriarchs and the tribes of Israel. Modiin has opted for the names of Israel's forests, Hadera has gone for Israeli Nobel Prize winners and Beersheva is currently naming streets after plants such as lemon and rosemary.

Prof. Azaryahu said, "In the early years of the State there was the complete Jewish history to cover with the likes of Yehuda Maccabee and Yehuda Halevy and then the key figures in Zionism and Israeli politics."

Recent tradition is to wait a few years until after somebody has died before naming streets after them so that former Prime Minister and President Shimon Peres, who died in 2016, is in line for some recognition, albeit it that politicians are out of favor in terms of street names. He already has streets named after him in Rishon Lezion, and Hadera.

Prof. Azaryahu tips former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who died in 2013 to be one of the most popular names in the coming years. Lod and Petah Tikva have already named streets after him while Hadera and Kiryat Gat named streets after him while he was still alive.

Prof. Azaryahu observes that the trend for political correctness means that whereas in the past streets tended to be named after Ashkenazim and men, in the future they are more likely to be named after Sephardim and women.

He said, "Take for example Ovadia Yosef. He'll be everywhere. I have information that even Tel Aviv has it on the agenda to memorialize him although it's not yet known where. He is too big a figure and nobody will say no. In this instance the politics works in reverse - who will speak up against commemorating a Sephardi."

He added, "And there is also the matter of women. Political correctness is very strong today and so we will see a lot of women's names on streets, who in different circumstances might not be worthy of commemorating as street names. So we are in the era of women and Sephardim, so Sephardi women are preferable."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 29, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

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