Erez Biton, The Blind Bard of Lod

Dec. 11 2014

Born in Algeria to Moroccan Jewish parents, Erez Biton came to Israel as a child, grew up in the town of Lod near Israel’s main airport, and lost his sight at age ten when he stumbled on an explosive most likely left behind by Arab infiltrators. The boy grew up to become modern Israel’s first great Mizrahi poet. Mitch Ginsburg describes his work:

Biton’s first two books of poetry, released in 1976 and 1979, were a radical departure from the norm. In his debut collection, “Minhah Marokayit” (Moroccan Offering), he wrote of shopping on Dizengoff Street in central Tel Aviv, of the polite, fashionable Hebrew necessary there, how it is unsheathed upon demand, and of his return, toward darkness, to the periphery, and “to the other Hebrew.” He wrote of Moroccan weddings and of winter mornings “against broken blinds”; he spiced his poetry with his mother tongue, Arabic, and wrote often of Jews and Arabs living their lives together in Morocco.

The most evocative and jolting poem for its time was called “Zohra El Fassia”—the tale of a Jewish Moroccan singer about whom “It is said that when she sang / Soldiers drew knives / To push through the crowds / And touch the hem of her dress / Kiss her fingertips / Express their thanks with a rial coin.” Biton met her when he was a social worker in Ashkelon, . . . and his depiction of her home and her predicament . . . captured a sentiment about the losses of [Mizrahi] Jewry that was not yet acceptable in mainstream Israeli society.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Algeria, Erez Biton, Hebrew poetry, Israeli literature, Mizrahi Jewry, Moroccan Jewry


Why President Biden Needs Prime Minister Netanyahu as Much as Netanyahu Needs Biden

Sept. 28 2023

Last Wednesday, Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since the former’s inauguration. Since then, Haim Katz, Israel’s tourism minister, became the first Israeli cabinet member to visit Saudi Arabia publicly, and Washington announced that it will include the Jewish state in its visa-waiver program. Richard Kemp, writing shortly after last week’s meeting, comments:

Finally, a full nine months into Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest government, President Joe Biden deigned to allow him into his presence. Historically, American presidents have invited newly installed Israeli prime ministers to the White House shortly after taking office. Even this meeting on Wednesday, however, was not in Washington but in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Such pointed lack of respect is not the way to treat one of America’s most valuable allies, and perhaps the staunchest of them all. It is all about petty political point-scoring and interfering in Israel’s internal democratic processes. But despite his short-sighted rebuke to the state of Israel and its prime minister, Biden actually needs at least as much from Netanyahu as Netanyahu needs from him. With the 2024 election looming, Biden is desperate for a foreign-policy success among a sea of abject failures.

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Biden no doubt played the Palestinian issue up as some kind of Saudi red line and the White House has probably been pushing [Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman] in that direction. But while the Saudis would no doubt want some kind of pro-forma undertaking by Israel for the sake of appearances, [a nuclear program and military support] are what they really want. The Saudis’ under-the-table backing for the original Abraham Accords in the face of stiff Palestinian rejection shows us where its priorities lie.

Israel remains alone in countering Iran’s nuclear threat, albeit with Saudi and other Arab countries cheering behind the scenes. This meeting won’t have changed that. We must hope, however, that Netanyahu has been able to persuade Biden of the electoral benefit to him of settling for a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia rather than holding out for the unobtainable jackpot of a two-state solution.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship