Arabic Language among Jews in Israel and the New Mizrahi Zionism: Between Active Knowledge and Performance
According to Command of Arabic among Israeli Jews, a report by Shenhav et al. (2015), the vast majority of the Jews in Israel neither speak nor understand the Arabic language. Proficiency in Arabic has declined dramatically with succeeding generations. While slightly more than half of the participants in the study believe that knowledge of Arabic is important, the majority of the participants also stated that its importance is security related. This bleak picture of Arabic as a vanishing language among Israeli Jews is related to the protracted ethnonational conflict, which has divided “Jews” from “Arabs.” This is in contrast to the recently expanding number of Jewish Israeli musicians, mostly of the third generation (the grandchildren) of migrants from Arab countries, who sing in Arabic and receive wide local and international exposure. In this article I examine the discrepancy between the low rates of proficiency and interest in the Arabic language and the growing number of singers and audiences in Israel who appreciate music sung in Arabic. I first summarize the findings of the report. I then examine Jewish Israeli musicians who perform in Arabic, focusing on Neta Elkayam and Ziv Yehezkel, to consider the possibilities of a cultural dialogue between Israeli musicians and local Palestinian, as well as regional, Arab audiences. I discuss the political significance of these performances, both in the context of Mizrahi identity among the third generation and in relation to local and regional Arab audiences. In the last section, I tie these musical performances to the policy of the right-wing government in Israel and the rise of a new Mizrahi Zionist discourse in relation to the Arabic language and culture. Finally, I point to the possible negative consequences of this cultural shift for Palestinians.
Musicians between the Hegemonies
Musicians between the Hegemonies: A Response
Between Politics and Politics of Identity: The Case of the Arab Jews
The article introduces the term “political Arab Jew,” its nature and meaning. It will show that proponents of the Arab Jew seek to separate the ethnic from the national, the Jew from the Zionist, and realign ethnic identities: Arabs, who include Jews and Muslims, vs. Ashkenazim/Zionists. They do so by creating an “imagined community,” by rejecting an ascriptive identity based on an ethnic/national juxtaposition, and by suggesting their own kind of identity, a self-ascriptive identity that separates the ethnos from the nation. They have failed in their mission, as the majority of Jews of Middle Eastern and North African origin reject the Arab Jew definer as representing their own identity. Even the more militant Mizrahim, who are fighting to change Mizrahi-Ashkenazi relations, limit their activities to the cultural field; when their goal is to redefine the place of the Mizrahim in Israel, they do so from within, not outside of, Jewish/Zionist society.
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.
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.
Music, Ethnicity, and Class between Salonica and Tel Aviv-Jaffa, or How We Got Salomonico
This article explores the articulation of class, ethnicity, and cultural orientation in the popular music taste cultures of Salonican Jews in two different ethno-class contexts—interwar Salonica and post-statehood Israel—in which theynegotiated their identities in national cultures then being formed. In interwar Salonica the imperative of Hellenization and the increasing presence of Western popular styles came together in shaping a youthful middle-brow/middle-class taste group that favored Western-style music. At the same time, the proletarization of large portions of the Jewish community and the arrival en masse of refugees from Asia Minor reinvigorated a (predominantly) working-class taste culture, wherein late Ottoman styles and their Greek-language successors were still preferred. These divergent tastes persisted in many ways among those who immigrated to Palestine/Israel and were absorbed and “translated” into the Israeli ethno-class system organized around the discursive binary of Ashkenazim vs. Mizrahim. That the category of “Mizrahim” was from the outset overdetermined by ethnicity, class, and geography meant that working-class Salonican Jews and their descendants, unlike the well-to-do, were subject to both symbolic and real “Mizrahization.”The character of the working-class “Greek” Jew from the 1972 film Salomonico represents a culmination of this process of Mizrahization, wherein the working-class Salonican immigrants were installed in a ready-made cinematic blueprint for depicting ethno-class tensions between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, using Greek music as a suggestive symbol. In tracing the formation, negotiation, and representation of these taste cultures (both real and imagined) across two national contexts, I seek to highlight that continuities are the result not just of a sense of tradition or stable transmission but rather of similarities between the national projects of the Greek and Jewish states, and the Sephardi Jews’ precarious position within them.
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.
- About JLS
- Vol. 9 No. 1 | Summer 2019
- Vol 8 No 2 Winter 2018
- Vol. 8, No. 1: Summer 2018
- Vol. 7, No. 2: Winter 2017
- Vol. 7, 1: Summer 2017
- Vol. 6, Summer/Winter 2016
- Vol. 5, No. 2 Winter 2015
- Vol. 5, No. 1 Summer 2015
- Vol. 4, No. 2 Winter 2014
- Vol. 4, No. 1 Summer 2014
- Vol. 3, No. 2 Winter 2013
- Vol. 3, No. 1 Summer 2013
- Vol. 2, No. 2 Winter 2012
- Vol. 2, No. 1 Summer 2012
- Vol. 1, No. 2 Winter 2011
- Vol. 1, No. 1 Summer 2011