Almog Behar’s Arabic-Infused Hebrew Poetry Isn’t Like Other Mizrahi Writers’

April 27 2023

Arabic is never far from the pen of the Israeli poet Almog Behar, who regularly throws expressions from the language of his ancestors into his Hebrew verses. In his new collection of poems, whose title translates as “Rub Salt into Love,” he writes, “And now I start translating myself into Arabic/ Where no one can see/ Tossing and turning from one language to the other.” Meir Buzaglo writes in his review:

Behar grew up in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya, though his family hails from across a wide swath of the Jewish Diaspora, including Iraq, Turkey, and Germany. Alongside Hebrew, some of his relatives are fluent in Arabic, while others speak German. The poet describes his translation between the closely related Semitic tongues as seeking harmony, or at least mutual understanding, between them and their culturally opposed speakers.

Almog Behar is often thought of as a Mizraḥi poet, yet his work is distinct from the most visible expression of contemporary Mizraḥi poetry, the so-called “Ars Poetica” school (an allusion not only to Horace’s classic Art of Poetry but also to the colloquial derogatory term for Mizraḥi youth, “arsim,” which the movement sought to reclaim). Ars Poetica is an identitarian movement that calls for greater Mizraḥi representation in the contemporary Israeli poetry scene. In this way, it both critiques the system while also accepting its basic contours. Behar, on the other hand, is creating new Hebrew poetry that includes, as part of its reconfiguration, Mizraḥi poetry and Sephardi piyyut.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Behar’s poetry is the way it reflects a life devoted to reading. . . . Behar is a scholar who has the privilege of teaching and studying literature at Tel Aviv University. Rub Salt into Love includes a playful “self-interview,” with the following question-answer sequence: “Does your writing come from wounds?/ I write because reading has wounded me.”

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Arabic, Hebrew poetry, Israeli literature, Mizrahim


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount