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"For as the days of a tree shall be the days of My people" (Isaiah 65:22): Flora and National Belonging on Israeli Banknotes

Sun, December 16, 4:15 to 5:45pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Cambridge 2


The first Israeli banknote carrying a human figure—that of Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl—was issued in Israel in 1969. Until then Israeli banknotes carried images of landscape, flora, ornaments and allegoric figures. This paper analyzes the role of banknotes as means of nation building in Israel, a relatively young state that is rooted in the history of the Jews since antiquity. The use of images of landscape and flora on various banknotes series is usually interpreted as ornamental. But we argue here that the choice of specific landscape and flora portray the bond of the people to its country and boundaries. While the same emblems can be interpreted as signifiers of the Palestinians who live on the same land, our research focuses on Jewish-Israeli society. With this focus, we suggest that the modern state on the territory of the ancient biblical kingdom marks a conscious use of the past as a means of continuity and thus – as a tool for nation building. Moreover, following Hastings (1997) we maintain that, just as French nationalism aroused the German sense of nationalism, as Kimmerling and Migdal (1999) argue, the Palestinian national identity was consolidated vis-à-vis Zionism and the establishment of the state of Israel.
This paper expands the discussion of the role played by the hegemonic institution of national banknotes in creating a selective tradition (Williams, 1980) that organizes symbols related to flora as signifying a certain “territorial identity,” (Paasi, 1996). To this end, we undertook a qualitative content analysis of minutes of proceedings, various other records, and correspondence of the Bank of Israel’s Banknotes and Coinage Planning Committee in Jerusalem from its inception in 1955 to 2012. Here we will focus on the first three banknotes series issued by the Bank of Israel from 1955 to1972. Following Barthes's Rhetoric of the Image (1977) analysis, our inquiry focuses on how myth is constructed. While Barthes exposed how myths were created through the visual images and text of commercials, we suggest a reverse process. In this paper we reveal the path of national ideology building that, through low-power communication means, became every-day nationalism.


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