On the coming October i will be part of the ID FESTIVAL in Berlin – In “Language Beyond Borders” i will part of a panel looking at the blessings, drawbacks, and interesting consequences associated with working and living in-between languages, where people learn to think and speak outside of their national borders.Read More »
The discussion surrounding Netanyahu’s Congress speech presumes that Iran does not have a right to nuclear weapons but that Israel does. Another way of looking at things is a nuclear-free Middle East, and an alliance between the oppressed citizens of Iran and Israel.
A “digital roundtable” held Nov. 14 is the latest example of how 21st century technology is breaking down international borders and transforming Cornell’s campus in the humanities as well as the sciences.
“New Mizrahi Writing in Israel: Digital Roundtable,” held in a Martha Van Rensselaer Hall videoconferencing facility, brought together writers on three continents to discuss the contemporary Israeli literary scene for an on-campus audience of students and faculty. The writers were chosen, said organizer Deborah Starr, because their work grapples with the cultural and linguistic heritage of their families who immigrated to Israel from Arab or Muslim countries (termed “Mizrahi Jews”).
“The webcast panel offered students in Ithaca a glimpse into the vibrant Israeli literary scene,” said Starr, professor of modern Hebrew and Arabic literature in the Department of Near Eastern Studies. “And it gave the writers a chance to get to know each other. It was a pretty lively discussion, as they had very different points of view”.
Michal Held, poet and scholar of Ladino, participated from Jerusalem, and began the event by reading a poem in Hebrew and English that she called a “manifesto” against not being categorized “Mizrahi”.
Her manifesto was echoed by Sami Berdugo, participating from Berlin, who read a poem in Hebrew, Arabic and English that reflected his ambivalence toward Hebrew and his Israeli identity. “I feel I have no community in Israel, religious, Mizrahi, sexual or other,” he said, adding “no category applies to me.
Poet Anat Zecharia, calling in from Tel Aviv, said she agreed with Berdugo. When someone reads her poems “as a manifesto of feminism or as an Israeli poet or as a Mizrahi poet, it makes him see maybe the end of the poem, but he never gets down deep to what I mean or think”.
But Almog Behar, award-winning author and poet and a visiting scholar at Cornell, said, “For me, you can be Mizrahi and Israeli and Jewish and Arabic and so on and they don’t contradict each other.” He noted that in the previous generation, “calling people ‘Mizrahi writers’ was a limiting title that was meant to place them in a narrow place in Israeli culture which would be marginalized within Israeli literature … but as a self-definition it also has the power to broaden Israeli literature. It allows us to connect with parts of our literature that were hidden from us”
Poet and playwright Mati Shemoelof, participating from Tel Aviv, said he has begun writing in prose “to find a new place in the culture so the categories focused on my writing will be different. In my prose I am less aware of the categories and try to write less politically and more freely than before.” Still, he added, “I’m proud that my work until now has been Mizrahi work. I’m proud of my ethnicity.
The roundtable was sponsored by the Department of Near Eastern Studies, the Jewish Studies Program and the Society for the Humanities, with support from the Hope and Eli Hurowitz Fund. Behar’s visiting scholar appointment is funded by the Shusterman Foundation.
Linda B. Glaser is staff writer for the College of Arts and Sciences
Controlling our future
Israel’s natural gas must remain here for the good of its residents. Otherwise, generations to come will rue the decision.
Israel’s natural resources are the driving force behind the country’s future. For years these resources have been pawned off to privately owned companies controlled by tycoons, and in the current era these resources are exported elsewhere.
It is no coincidence that Makhteshim Agan Industries (one of the world’s largest agrochemical companies) was sold to the Chinese and Eden Springs Ltd. was sold to a foreign capital fund for more than a billion dollars. If Israel decides to go the tycoon route and export over half our natural gas, we will be faced with a new reality in which our fate will be determined by foreigners. Israel’s future must be kept in its own hands.
This is not only about the exportation of our resources. It is about the future of every worker in the gas production plants. Domestic management can assume responsibility for the workers and their job security. Foreign management will minimize this responsibility and alienate them, with no sense of responsibility for the welfare of the local communities they represent. According to estimates, the State of Israel and its citizens will lose 600 billion shekels ($165 billion) from gas export deals — the same gigantic funds that could instead be invested in education, welfare, health, infrastructure and erasing the huge gaps between the rich and poor.
Allegedly, the tycoons will request autonomy over deciding whether to export the gas. They will also present rational justifications for their business plans. But the rush to demand that the gas be exported arouses significant suspicions. Why is the decision on such an enormous amount of money not the subject of profound debate? After all, this sum can and would certainly alter the future of Israeli society. This is especially true considering the world’s economic crisis, recession and general instability of global markets. Would we really squander this gift the land has given us, and put it in foreign hands instead of investing it for the sake of our own needy?
The truth is that this is about the lobbyists who work for the gas companies and who are rushing to push Israel into the pockets of the tycoons. There is not enough information about the gas reservoirs or about the exact needs the Israeli market has for them. Can a decision about a large portion of the national budget be made in a debate from which the public is absent? After all, the government, which is supposed to represent the public’s interests, is unable to withstand the will and pressure applied by the lobbyists and tycoons.
Remember how the Sheshinski committee changed the royalty rate to be received by the country? Indeed, this is precisely how we as citizens, by focusing our struggle against the export of our natural gas, can change the face of our future.
This is about more than just economic and social interests, it is about an environmental decision of the utmost importance, because natural gas can replace more polluting methods of energy production. This is about quality of life for the country’s citizens, which can drastically change for the better.
As stated, the ultimate decision must be made by the Knesset, not just by the cabinet — if for no other reason than because this is not a regular decision.
Remember what happened to other countries that rushed to export their energy reserves and then became dependent on more expensive alternatives. The natural gas is a strategic resource, and for the security of Israel let us keep it in our own hands.
Although the racism and hatred between Israel and its neighbors seems as entrenched as ever, many Mizrahi artists are connecting to their Arab roots. Does this trend portend a brighter future for the Middle East?
In an interview with Al Arabiya several years ago, popular Israeli singer Zehava Ben stated that she was interested in performing throughout the Arab world, and especially in Beirut and Gaza. Israel’s security system forbade her entrance into the Strip, due to the fact that Hamas rules the territory. In a later interview, she said that her dream is to perform in Cairo’s Opera House, where her favorite singer,Umm Kulthum, once regularly performed. Ben’s words express the natural desires of many Mizrahi Jews in Israel to connect to the roots of the Arab culture in which their parents lived for generations. Mizrahi music represents the longing of almost half of the state’s citizens for the elements of Arab culture that they know so well. But beyond the question of origin, history and biography, it is a question of Israel’s place in the Middle East, which affects every citizen, Mizrahi or not.
When Israeli music begins exporting Arabic culture to its neighbors, both near and far, it will be able to grow its popularity and double or even triple its sales. Mizrahi-Mediterranean culture can jump over that barrier and draw new audiences. Today, we know that many people in neighboring countries, and certainly in the occupied territories, know and love songs by Eyal Golan and are well-versed in new Mizrahi-Israeli music. It will be easier to sell Mizrahi music in the Mashriq (the geographical region between Iran and Egypt) and the Maghreb (from Egypt to Morocco) in parallel to cultural exports to the U.S. and Europe. It’s important to mention that more than a few Israeli success stories in Europe maintained their Arabic sound, such as Ofra Haza.
Maor Adri covers Syrian singer Wafik Habib’s 2012 hit “Yalla Yalla”:
Music and culture have an additional role. Should we be able to export Mizrahi culture to Arab countries, it is likely to reduce the tension and hatred against Israel. The Arab bloc will no longer see Israel as a vestige of European colonialism that came to settle on Palestinian land. They will understand that over a million Jews arrived in Israel from Arab countries, and maintained their Arab identity, which is expressed in music and culture.
Israeli society today cannot see its place between Beirut, Amman and Cairo. But anyone who listens to the many versions by some of Israel’s best singers (Sarit Hadad, Omer Adam, Maor Adri and many others) will discover that they regularly release covers of Arabic songs in Hebrew. There exists today a contemporary Israeli culture that is effectively in dialogue with a contemporary Arab culture, but no one speaks about it openly. There is a conspiracy of silence around the issue. Zehava Ben was brave enough to openly say that her dream is to perform in the same auditorium as Umm Kulthum in Cairo. But Ben is not speaking out of nostalgia – she is up to date and wants, like other artists, to update her work and create new art that corresponds, influences and is influenced by its surroundings. This is the reason that Ben’s album of Umm Kulthum songs made it to the Arab world (despite the boycott), along with albums in Arabic by Ofer Levi, Sarit Hadad and Sharif. Even albums by singers such as Yasmin Levy, who is very successful in Turkey, or Rita with her album in Persian, which made it to Iran (among other countries), or the Moroccan-Israeli singers, who transcend musical horizons within Israel and outside of it.
Omer Adam performs “Wai Li,” a song by Lebanese artist Fares Karam which was originally released in 2009:
The awaited change won’t only come from the Jewish side. It was an important event when Lina Makhoul, a Christian Palestinian from the city of Acre, won first place on Israel’s The Voice television show. Professor Yossi Yonah sees her victory as indicative of Palestinian citizens’ desire to integrate into Israeli culture. Nasreen Kadri’s victory on the second season of Eyal Golan is Calling You, which Israeli educator and activist Shira Ohayon called “a revolution on live television,” was a big step in that direction. Our shared lives here are not only full of negativity, racism and loathing – they also portend a new-old cultural development despite years of political and cultural deadlock that has been forced on us from above. Israel will find its place in the Middle East with the development of Jewish-Arab (as exemplified by Zehava Ben), and Arab-Jewish culture (as exemplified by Lina Makhoul and Nasreen Kadri). The success of these mixed cultures will only bring prosperity.
Nasreen Kadri and Ofer Nissim perform “Sawah” by Egypt’s Abdel Halim Hafez: