• Lital Levy. Poetic Trespass: Writing between Hebrew and Arabic in Israel/Palestine Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014. 360 pp.

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    The Arab Jew Debates: Media, Culture, Politics, History

    For the past twenty-five years, and particularly during the last decade, the idea of the Arab Jew has been debated in multiple forums in different parts of the world. The Arab Jew is represented in literature and film, discussed in blogs and social media, and featured in live performances. It has informed scholarship in literary and cultural studies, sociology, and history, in Israel, the Arab world, Europe, and North America. Yet the term “Arab Jew” remains controversial, especially in Israel, where it is widely viewed as a left-wing political concept. This article surveys the Arab Jew’s full range of expression to date, emphasizing the reciprocal movement of ideas across different geographies and between discursive spheres. It argues that the Arab Jew idea has developed as both a project of political intervention into the present-day separation of Arabness from Jewishness and a project of reconstruction focusing on the Jewish past in the MENA region. Examining recent episodes in the Israeli public sphere, the article investigates how contemporary discussions about Arab Jewish identity and culture utilize competing views of history. It concludes by reconsidering the relevance of the “Arab Jew” to the burgeoning historical scholarship on Jews in the MENA region during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

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  • The Iraqi Novel and the Christians of Iraq

    After the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s authoritarian regime in 2003, the Christian communities of Iraq faced forced emigration. In this article I examine how the Christians of Iraq and their recent precarious situation are reflected in the Iraqi novel. First, I set the political and conceptual grounds with an exposition of the debate over the place of Christians in the Iraqi nation, as discussed by two Iraqi intellectuals belonging to the Sunni and Shi‘i Muslim traditions. This debate frames the liberal political discourse on the Christians and thus provides a framework for the analysis of the novels, the main focus of the article. Iraqi novelists are less refined than intellectuals and politicians in their exposition of views about Christians, or in the case of Christian novelists, their views of their own community and of Iraqi Muslims. I examine representations of Christians in novels written by both Muslim and Christian Iraqi writers, as well as how novels by Christian Iraqi writers reflect the controversy they live with and the crisis of their identity vis à vis their community and its current place in Iraq. What emerges is that increasing numbers of Christians question both their alliance with the Arabs in Iraq and, even more so, their Arab identity. For various reasons Arab Muslim intellectuals find this difficult to accept.

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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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    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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