Iden­ti­ty, Place, and Sub­ver­sion in Con­tem­po­rary Mizrahi Cin­e­ma in Israel

Yaron She­mer

  • Review
By – August 1, 2014

This com­pre­hen­sive and sys­tem­at­ic study of recent Mizrahi cin­e­ma in Israel explores the man­ner in which con­tem­po­rary Mizrahi cin­e­matog­ra­phers have con­front­ed the long-stand­ing bias­es and dis­crim­i­na­tion direct­ed against Mizrahi Jews on the part of the ear­ly Zion­ist ori­ent­ed set­tlers. She­mer describes how, since their arrival at the begin­ning of the 1950s, the Mizrahi (Ori­en­tal-Jew­ish or Arab-Jew­ish) Jews have been sub­ject­ed to a per­sis­tent atti­tude where­in they have been viewed as an infe­ri­or oth­er.” Their Lev­an­tine” cul­tur­al expres­sions have been seen as threats to the nation­al Zion­ist enter­prise” which was ground­ed in West­ern cul­ture. The gen­er­al atti­tude main­tained by the dom­i­nant lead­er­ship had been direct­ed at mar­gin­al­iz­ing or even sub­li­mat­ing the cul­tur­al expres­sions and iden­ti­ty of the Mizrahi Jews in what has come to be described as the Israeli melt­ing pot.”

As author She­mer makes clear in this book, cre­ators of Mizrahi cin­e­ma in Israel have begun to react against these atti­tudes, striv­ing earnest­ly to re-assert and to pro­mote Mizrahi cul­ture in their cre­ations. Over­com­ing a half cen­tu­ry of humil­i­a­tion, Mizrahi cin­e­ma has begun to chal­lenge the pre­vail­ing nation­al sto­ry in a new sce­nario in which film­mak­ers are striv­ing to reclaim their par­ents’ Arab-Jew­ish cul­ture. How­ev­er, their con­struc­tion of the past encoun­ters bar­ri­ers in the form of lan­guage and Arab hostility.

In addi­tion, Shemer’s work exam­ines how the Mizrahi cin­e­mat­ic re­sponse to the dom­i­nant cul­ture has been instru­men­tal in fash­ion­ing an orig­i­nal place in Israeli cin­e­ma that defies the sta­tus quo and pro­vides a con­tro­ver­sial new space that gives voice to an oth­er­wise con­strained majority.

This book is a must not only for those fas­ci­nat­ed with the study of con­tem­po­rary Israeli cin­e­ma, but also those explor­ing the soci­o­log­i­cal and eth­no­log­i­cal impli­ca­tions of the con­flict between the ear­ly Zion­ist set­tlers and the lat­er Mizrahi arrivals who have recent­ly begun to make their voic­es known in Israeli soci­ety, both on and off the screen. Text is accom­pa­nied by appen­dices which include Israeli films cit­ed in the book, inter­views con­duct­ed by the author, a bib­li­og­ra­phy, and index.

Ran­dall Belin­fante has served as the Librar­i­an of the Amer­i­can Sephar­di Fed­er­a­tion for more than 13 years. He has tak­en a tiny col­lec­tion of 200 books and built an assem­blage of over 10,000 items. Mr. Belin­fante holds degrees in var­i­ous aspects of Jew­ish stud­ies, and dur­ing his tenure at ASF, he has inves­ti­gat­ed a vari­ety of top­ics, pre­sent­ing papers on such diverse top­ics as the Mizrahi Jews dri­ven from their homes in Islam­ic coun­tries and the cryp­to-Jew­ish Mash­hadis of Iran. He has also writ­ten many book reviews on books of Sephar­di / Mizrahi interest.

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