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    Abandoning Language: The Project of Arab-Jewish Subjectivity in Sami Michael’s Arabic Fiction of the 1950s

    Sami Michael is a well-known, Iraqi-born Israeli writer whose best-selling works have been widely discussed in both public and academic discourse. However, long before writing in Hebrew, Michael published several short stories and articles in his native Arabic during the 1950s. This article examines a selection of Michael’s Arabic stories and frames them as the genesis of his representations of Arab-Jewish subjectivity, while also emphasizing the importance of the fact that a well-known Israeli writer began his literary career in Arabic. I argue that to sketch out a fuller picture of Michael’s literary voice, we must take into account the ways in which his early Arabic writings were precursors of his later Hebrew novels and how the process of abandoning his native language was formative even before his switch to Hebrew. The short stories discussed here all confront the ambivalences and, importantly, the possibilities that characterize Michael’s imagined Arab-Jewish subjectivity, suggesting it to be a literary sensibility fraught with a paradoxical sense of simultaneous potential and dissolution.

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  • Arabian Nights, Hebrew Nights: On the Influence of Alf laylah wa-laylah on Jewish Culture in Palestine/Israel

    This paper demonstrates how Jewish engagement with Arabic literature in Palestine/Israel provided an impetus for the Jewish cultural renaissance. By analyzing Yosef Yoel Rivlin’s Hebrew rendering of One Thousand and One Nights, it showcases how Arabic literature serviced Jewish nationalistic objectives by introducing the Arab other to a Jewish audience as the neighbor other and by enhancing a sense of attachment and belonging to the Oriental cultural world. Rivlin’s rendering of One Thousand and One Nights served as a prism through which his audience would view major issues that preoccupied the proponents of the emergent Jewish culture in Palestine/Israel. To reveal the nationalistic dimensions in Rivlin’s engagement with the Nights, this paper will approach the work as a window on discussion of the Jewish renaissance and return to the Orient, the Jewish self-conceptualization, the boundaries between the self and the other, the reconstruction of the Jewish past, and the enhancement of the modern Hebrew language and its literature.

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    We can’t understand ourselves without the Arabic: Dreams in Cambridge (2009)

    In this paper I discuss the question of Jewish-Arab identity, its intergenerational differences, its different definitions in Hebrew and Arabic, and the differences in its usage in modern times and earlier periods. In Jewish-Arab identity, as in every identity, there is a mixture of self-identification and outer-identification. Whatever one’s reason for identifying as an Arab-Jew—whether related to the historical and cultural background or because one’s family identified this way prior to Zionism and immigration or in defiance of today’s national identities in Israel and the Arab world—it does not “have” to create as strong an objection as it does. However, the objection is understood when it is an outer-identification that flattens differences between historical periods, regions, or differences between the Jews of the Muslim world. In the late nineteenth century, Jewish-Arab identity was an identification with the Nahḍa movement, with the awakening of Arabic literature and language, and it sought to reweave Jewish-Arab identity, written culture, and memory into the Arab revival, or at least into the Arab literary imagination. Later, in the first half of the twentieth century, Jewish-Arab identity was an identification with local Arab nationalism in the different Arab lands, seen as a potential for a large-scale project, started by the intellectual elite, that would make Jews an integral and equal part of their societies. In the second half of the twentieth century, after 1948 and after immigration, mostly to Israel, Jewish-Arab identity was an identity that expressed criticism of both national projects, Jewish and Arab, their marginalization and nonacceptance of the Arab-Jews, and their exclusive and oppressive nature.

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