Arab music and mizraḥii poetry

Yochai Oppenheimer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The concept of “Arab Jews,” which has appeared in Israeli Mizraḥi (Oriental) discourse over the last decade, resists the framework of Israeli national culture that demands the elimination of Arab identity. For this music suggests possibilities of remembering and “re-presenting” this partially-repressed element. Moreover, the experience of remembering Arab music represents, more than anything else, the diasporic attitude of the Mizraḥim (Oriental Jews). It demonstrates a common legacy that Israeli culture is unwilling to accept and understand. Extrication from the boundaries of Zionist culture (which has historically rejected the diasporic past and its cultures, especially the Arab-Jewish past) manifests itself, for many Mizraḥim as a reconnection with their Arab musical identity. Ella Shohat—a leading scholar in ethnical studies—defines this position regarding Arab music as a “return to the diaspora,” which she proposes as the opposite of the “return to Zion.” This is the place in which an immigrant rediscovers his ability to rescue a past endangered with oblivion. Mizraḥi poetry frequently addresses music as a way of establishing an Arab-Jewish identity in Israel, which can create connections between the present and the historical-cultural past. This article will focus on the first generation of Mizraḥi poets (Erez Biton) as well as on the second generation (Roni Somek, Sami Shalom Chetrit, Vicki Shiran). Their poetry is a protest against the erasing of the Mizraḥi cultural inheritance, in which Arabic music played an integral part. We will not discuss Arabic music as such, but the way in which it is represented and used in Mizraḥi poetry.

Original languageEnglish
Article number7
JournalCLCWeb - Comparative Literature and Culture
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020


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