• We Are Fragments of Rhymes: The Poetry of Erez Biton between East and West

    The poetry of Erez Biton, as it found expression in his first book Minha Marokait (1967), was a landmark in Hebrew literature. The starting point for the author—the founding father of Mizrahi poetry in Israel—is his immigration to Israel from North Africa. The article follows the literary structure of the trauma of immigration in Biton’s poetry. Biton contests the attempts at entrapment and domestication that are part of the trauma of immigration and develops a critical stance toward the Ashkenazi hegemony. In this way he develops a poetic voice that opposes the Israeli sovereign, who relates to Biton as an Arab-Jew excluded from the sovereign’s narrative. For Biton’s testimony about his trauma to be accepted, he needed to crack the walls erected by the ruling universal subject of Israeli sovereignty to maintain stability of identity in the face of Biton’s trauma as a Mizrahi immigrant. These walls, which removed the “Arabness” of the Mizrahi immigrant, did not assign a place for him and thus did not allow the testimony about his trauma to be heard. The method Biton proposes to the Mizrahi for simultaneously retaining and not retaining the hyphen in “Arab-Jewish” is to carry on a pretense and use defiant language. Biton is of the opinion that the failure of the Mizrahi to penetrate the walls of Israeli sovereignty’s poetry is predictable and brought on by the attempt to form a cohesive identity. However, he suggests turning this failure into an advantage by using pretense.
    This slide toward the “other,” this redundancy at the core of the process of mimicking the Ashkenazi, creates a critical effect. Biton is in fact suggesting that his readers—you, the Mizrahi—be like the Ashkenazi, but not completely like him; in this way you will undermine the Ashkenazi’s subjective self as well as his authority. This rejection provides the time required to cope with the trauma of immigration. The ambivalence of the mimicry that Homi Bhabha writes of not only disrupts the discourse but also transforms it into complete uncertainty, fixing the colonial, sovereign, and oppressing subject as only a partial presence. In other words, it undermines the sovereign subject, and does not give it authority.
    Erez Biton recreates the Mizrahi stereotype, thus challenging the coherence of the stereotype and the coherence of the identity of the oppressor who uses this stereotype—the same stereotype Biton uses to undermine the oppressor. Biton, who suggests mimicking the Ashkenazi, is in effect also mimicking the Mizrahi and in doing so reveals the mimicking nature of his poetry—a structure with which he expresses the absence of a stable source for and the contingency of all ethnic identities in Israel.
  • The Burden of Self-Representation: Reflections on Shhur and Its Legacy for Contemporary Mizrahi Films in Israel

    In hindsight, Hannah Azulai-Hasfari’s 1995 semi-autobiographical film Shḥur heralded the rise of new Mizrahi cinema—a corpus of contemporary films that features Mizrahi traditions, experiences, and struggle and brings Mizrahi subjectivity to the fore. Given the often uncomplimentary on-screen depiction of the Mizrahi during the formative years of Israeli cinema and the scant Mizrahi self-representation through the early 1990s, one could anticipate the public and scholarly interest in and heightened sensitivity around the elaborate portrayal of the Moroccan family and customs in Azulai-Hasfari’s film. This essay explores the particular modalities of this burden of representation and the strategies the filmmaker employed to unburden herself. Whereas the burden of representation is often situated in the realm of production (the particular directorial choices as they pertain to narrative, cast, space, etc. in the making of a film), the analysis of Shḥur in this essay opts to focus on the modalities along which the burden of representation materializes in the realm of reception. This essay’s final section adumbrates the film’s particular construction of a Mizrahi space as well as its use of languages as devices that left their marks in feature, documentary, short, and experimental Mizrahi films for years afterward. In turn, this more recent crop of Mizrahi films has modified the parameters of the burden of Mizrahi self-representation.

  • Life under the Last Sky: History, Memory, and Trauma in Dudu Busi’s Noble Savage

    This essay addresses questions of responsibility and survival and the possibilities of life in a fictional, contemporary Israeli urban setting imbued with violence and its related memories from both the recent and pre-Israeli past. In Noble Savage, Mizrahi novelist Dudu Busi engages with the question of survival in a southern Tel Aviv slum. Eli, the protagonist, perceives life in the slum as an ongoing struggle for survival. Life is a maze that Eli navigates by defending himself and avoiding the omnipresent violence that exists both outside in the neighborhood and inside his own home. Utilizing theories of space, and addressing questions of trauma and testimony, the essay analyzes the violent relations that are formed between space, body, and subject. These violent relations, I argue, imprison the characters in a cycle of unethical and politically undesirable behavior. These questions of survival and life are conveyed beyond the literary setting and into the reality of the novel’s reception as a “threatening” or “dangerous” book. The essay presents Busi’s novel as the basis for a critical stance vis-à-vis the violent reality in Israeli slums. Busi’s stance does not absolve the residents of accountability for their violent acts; instead, it urges them to assume responsibility for these acts, which might put an end to the cycle of violence.