As a New Black Panther Party Forms, Poetry and Music Bring Mizrahi Jews Together in Celebration
(photo taken by Moti Kikyon. from right to left: Mati Shemoelof and Almog Behar)
Ayala stood excited in front of more then one hundred people in a special poetry and music support event that was host and organized by the two poets and activists, Mati Shemoelof and Almog Behar. The event took place at the Dayla info-shop in Jerusalem last Wednesday 23.7.2008. Ayala, who is the founder of the renewed Black Panthers Party, was honored to have this huge show of cultural support in her new campaign. She looked proudly at the huge crowd — streaming out on the balcony and into the streets listening on speakers — and the more then 30 poets and musicians who came to Jerusalem especially to show their solidarity, concern and obligation to her movement.
“I needed a way to survive after my brother died, so I founded the New Black Panthers Party in order to be elected to the Jerusalem City Hall,” said Ayala Sabag Marciano. Her brother was a Former Parliament Member in the Knesset and one of the original Black Panthers, Saadia Marciano (1.5.1950-21.12.2007). Until the last days of his life, he was fighting for justice and equality for all.
Just recently Ayala was managing and organizing the homeless tents in the Bor-HaSiver garden in the center of Jerusalem. More than 20 families stayed inside the tents after being thrown to street with out any chance to survive. Ayala took them from their hiding places most of them were women who were deprived, and abused by men. Others stayed in temporal shelter. Children, elders and families — most of them came from the Mizrahi origin (Jews who immigrated to Israel from Arab states) as well as Russians Jews, Orthodox Jews who were thrown out of their communities, and more.
Ran Cohen claims that in two decades of a ruthless Neo-Liberal economic policy, supported by both Likud and Labor, Israel witnessed sharp welfare cuts, booming state support for the rich (including the insatiable military sector), a successful war waged on organized labor, unrestrained privatization, and, these very days, a sellout of Israel’s major financial institutions to foreign investors, who, portrayed as its great benefactors, come to milk the Israeli economy dry. This policy left Israel–once a moderate welfare state–with the highest income gaps in the Western world, with growing un- and underemployment, with a rapidly shrinking middle class, with appalling poverty rates among the elderly, children, and adults, and with a prospering charity industry; in short, a society rapidly deteriorating toward Third-World conditions, with the handful of rich enslaving the impoverished masses. In 2008, already more then 53,000 families have been displaced from their homes.
Ayala took responsibility for what had been lost due to slashes in social services, bringing families into a temporal home in the middle of a crowed street in the center of the city. Her special way of taking care of people from the street drew in a lot of anarchist, artists (for instance the Barbur Gallery), activists and poets, feminist movements and NGOs. The homeless tents became a meeting place, and a place of solidarity. After four months living in the streets, the Mayor promised to help these families and Ayala closed the tent city, moving on to the next social struggle. She knew in her heart that peoples lives should and can be better, and that these smaller social and political wins could be transformed into greater political change. That is why she couldn’t morn when her brother died. She came with her new idea. We need to take back our power by going to the local City Halls and then winning national seats.
The Israeli Black Panthers party took hold in the 1970s, founded by young Mizrahi Jews from the Musrara neighborhood in Jerusalem, rebelling against the regime. The party played a formidable and powerful role in Israeli politics–they demanded re-distribution of power and resources. Between 1974 and 1977, the Israeli government founded a universal welfare state (the provision of welfare services by the state). The state doubled and tripled the education, health, housing and more services at that time, taking responsibility for the welfare of citizens (until the rise of the Likud party). Also, the Panthers were the first to add the identity question of race and ethnicity into the public discourse. They asked for a kind of a multi-cultural idea by asking to recognize the place of the Mizrahi and Arab culture that was negated in the Hegemonic regime. The Mizrahi movement took its name from the Original Black Panthers Party founded in the states by radical activists following Malcolm X’s vision in the early seventies, drawn to what they found were similar issues and ideals.
(The poster for the poetry event was made by Shlomi Cohen)
Erez Bitton was the first poet who spoke, and read poems to support the new Panther’s Party. He told the excited crowd about his personal meeting with the original movements. He spoke of how painful it has been to be oppressed as a Mizrahi poet, recounting his yearly struggle to fight the Israeli establishment in order to get funds for his Apirion Middle Eastern Journal. Erez was the first Mizrahi poet who wrote about the dual consciousness of the Mizrahi in the Israeli regime. He read without any notes or papers, embracing the crowd.
After Bitton, Ronni Someck read, followed by Bracha Seri, one of the known and great Mizrahi women poets. They were followed by many other poets and bands, including a Liturgical Piyut Mizrahi band. They sang songs of devotion for god almighty. The poetry that followed became social with a meaning for mercy and grace, and a special request to bring back a basic welfare state to 1.5 million people who are poor, as well as for the unknown future of the 600,000 poor kids–Arabs and Jews, Mizrahi and Ashkenazi, women and men, oppressed Palestinian and Israeli citizens, underclass and middle class and others who need to be in solidarity for their unsecured future.
Late into the evening came the Mizrahi singer Koko from Eilat. His arrival became possible because of the collaboration with Hafakot-HaMizrah (East Production) who are creating Mizrahi culture that includes movies, music and more. Koko came from Beer Sheva where he lives to offer his solidarity with Ayala and her movement, and told that a lot of people he knows are becoming poorer, facing hard economic times. He sang two songs in Irakian, (one of them was the famous Nazem El-Ghazali Fog il Nahal) and later he sang big hits that made people dance in the small club and outside. Yeirmi Kadosh and Yamin Messika came and brought their touch to the event.
At the end, Ayala thanked everyone who came, speaking about her goal to unite all in society to bring justice for all, and to change the value system in the larger Israeli society. “I do not believe in hatred of hegemonic groups. Only love and hope can bring the social movements to win back power.”
If you wish to donate or contact the New Israeli Black Panther Movement” in their running for the Parliament of the Jerusalem City Hall please send an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was first published on Jvoices, 31.7.2008
Tags: Almog Behar, Ayala Sabag Marciano, Erez Bitton, Israeli citizens, Jerusalem, Labor, Licud, Mati Shemoelof, Mizrahi Jews, Neo-Liberal economic policy, Piyut, poetry, renewed Black Panthers Party, social struggle