JERUSALEM (JTA) — A space center that opened in the Arab-Israeli city of Taybeh was not named for the late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon following opposition from city residents.
The Taybeh Space Center was dedicated Tuesday. It was to be called the Ilan Ramon Space Center. Instead, under the name of the center it will be inscribed, "To perpetuate the memory of astronaut Ilan Ramon."
Arab-Israeli Knesset member Ahmed Tibi led the opposition to the naming of the space center for Ramon, who died aboard the space shuttle Columbia when it crashed upon re-entry in February 2003.
Tibi, who lives in Taybeh, said in June that the Arab community would be upset with the dedication because during his service in the Israeli military, Ramon bombed civilian populations in Arab states. Ramon was a fighter pilot during the first Lebanon war and also flew in the 1981 airstrike on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor.
"Dedicating a center in his honor in an Arab community is a tasteless and unjustified move," Tibi said in a letter to Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz in June.
Hershkowitz at the dedication said that Ramon was the only Israeli astronaut and the center was established in his memory.
"I believe this center can increase cooperation and fraternity between Israelis and Arabs, and make science accessible to the entire population while narrowing the gaps in the Israeli society," he said.
The center is funded by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ramon Foundation, as well as the Taybeh municipality.