Issue #6

  1. Introducing TONGUES

  2. Dispatches

  3. JEW BOY

  4. Oxcha, Oxcha

  5. Hack

  6. Jaffa My Love — The IsraHell Dystopia

  7. Remember Passing

  8. Confusing Their Tongues

  9. Catchat: Following an Interview With a Cat

  10. On Diasporic Speech

  11. The Yiddish Terrorist

  12. Divide, Fragment, Exceptionalize

  13. The Taste of Displacement

  14. FEAST: Semipermeable Membrane

  15. Your Love Is Like A River

  16. Doing Right By You

  17. Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism

  18. The Wind and Its Hundred Doors

  19. What Makes You Choke

Oxcha, Oxcha

Maor Oz

Still from ARISA commercial, directed by Omer Tobi, starring Rinat Bar, Eliad Cohen, and Uriel Yekutiel, 2011

Beginning in the early 20th century, Jewish immigrants to Israel/Palestine, Palestinians, and members of the “Old Yishuv” (pre-20th century Jewish communities in Palestine), along with their descendants, began speaking a contemporary Hebrew crafted and implemented by Eurocentric Zionists. This language, for better or worse, was masculine-centric, focused on the Land of Israel, and saw its primary purpose as the “ingathering of exiles.” It was through the imposition of this dialect, now known as Israelit, that a new Jewish masculinity would be conceptualized, actualized, and eventually, rebelled against. 

Coined by linguist Dr. Ghil’ad Zuckermann, Israelit refers to an Israel-specific Hebrew that is distinct from biblical, medieval, and diaspora Hebrews. This Hebrew earns its uniqueness through its particular grammar, lexicon, and phonology. Since the arrival of Jewish immigrants in pre-state Palestine, and indeed every day since, peripheralized individuals and communities were — and continue to be — faced with a Hebrew that is rooted in and elaborated through a European, patriarchal, and Orientalist nationalism, one that works to maintain the myth of a unified Jewish-Israeli identity. Film has reinforced this language and its goals, as early twentieth century propaganda, Jewish Agency fundraising films, and much of contemporary Israeli film and television have all been integral to the formation of a normative Hebrew tongue and of normative Israeli identities. 

Yet for some Mizraḥi¹ gay men who stand apart from that nationalist identity, linguistic creativity, activism, and contestation have all become important tools to signify a divergent relationship to the state. And in response to Israelit, the queer Mizraḥi community has waged a linguistic battle and developed its own sociolectoxchitdisseminated primarily through social media, film, and the gay Israeli club scene. Oxchit demonstrates a powerful instance of Mizraḥi identity navigation that is antithetical to the dominant ethos of Israeli masculinity. 

Since the 1980s, Israeli cinema has hosted numerous representations of gay Mizraḥim. These representations respond to a masculinity formed in reaction to a European Orientalist gaze from which Ashkenazi settlers denigrated the Oriental man as weak and effeminate. Commonly referred to as oxchot², “out” gay Mizraḥi men and their filmic performances intentionally draw upon traditional Middle Eastern cultural references and gender expressions, while keying them in a creatively deployed Israeli Hebrew to claim space in Israeli society. In the beginning, these linguistic performances had the opportunity to claim space via the history of critical Mizraḥi identity and socioeconomic activism (i.e. the Mizraḥi Black Panthers). But this linguistic code has also been co-opted as a success story of the Zionist project, made most obvious by its appropriation into general Tel Aviv Hebrew and most saliently heard during Tel Aviv Pride festivities. 

Around the world, queer codes and languages arise as secret systems of communication in contexts where queerness may endanger one’s life. Traditionally, before contemporary social media, these codes and languages moved internationally as their users travelled, so an important and overlooked mechanism of gay codemaking is the ability to do so. In Israel, this process was, and remains, no different. However, the entrenched socioeconomic disparities between Mizraḥim and Ashkenazim have proven extremely significant to linguistic codes and practices across Israeli society. As Ashkenazi Israelis traveled to Europe and North America, they acquired the linguistic code of what cultural anthropologist Joseph Massad calls the Gay International (GI). The influence of GI language on Israeli and Palestinian communities has been almost completely mediated by European-Ashkenazi Israeli subjects. In other words, through those who could afford to vacation around the world. 

Those who traveled, and those who who were exposed to the Gay International through others who left the country, were eager for a new way of speaking. There are fundamental and problematic limitations in Israeli Hebrew for queer people. The gender-neutral English term “partner,” for example, translates in Hebrew to “ben (masculine) / bat (feminine) zug,” which must be inflected for the gender of the partner in question and thus “outs” the speaker. Because a Hebrew speaker has, traditionally, had to speak from a binary gendered position — with gendered suffix inflections added to verbs and adjectives denoting the speaker’s gender — the very act of speaking or writing in Hebrew remains a hurdle not only for gay men and women, but more significantly for trans and non-binary Israelis and Palestinians. The challenge to either retrain one’s way of speaking Hebrew from an alternative gendered position or to create neutral suffixes have only recently been undertaken.  

Perceiving English and other grammatically un-gendered languages as more open and capable of expressing their complex identities, Israeli gay men began incorporating international gay codes into Israeli Hebrew. This code, primarily composed of Hebraized English words alongside contributions from other European languages, naturally takes the majority of its semantic references from the United States and Western Europe. In reporter Adi Tzur’s 2015 edition of the Even HaShushanah Dictionary, an informal lexicon of terms used by gay Israeli men in the 1980’s and 90’s, over 70% of the included words are directly from English, while other contributions come from French, German, Arabic, and some from Hebrew. Some examples:

Using the names of particular places, people, and activities (i.e. “Do you shadow?”), the dictionary’s entries speak to the sociolinguistic process of “enregisterment,” which, over time and across community members, links particular words with sociological ideology and identity — in this case, those of the Gay International. In their seminal work Sexist Slang and the Gay Community: Are you one, too? (1979), Julia Penelope and Susan J. Wolfe discuss how not only stark terms and phrases referring to sexual acts and infamous queer performers are enregistered but also how more pragmatic ones are. They discuss at length the use of the term “one” to mean “gay or lesbian” in 1970s America, when terms such as “lesbian” and “gay” were often avoided because of the negative association and compromising consequences they could have for the speaker. The capability of a grammatically un-gendered language to represent its speakers without divulging their gender, they argue, provided an escape for those who felt unsafe identifying their sexuality or gender through the very basic grammar of their language.

However, Mizraḥim were generally peripheral to the development of the new gay Hebrew of late 20th century Israel. Mizraḥi experiences that reflected their relationship to the state, Ashkenazi hegemony, and the Hebrew language itself were excluded from contributing to a gay Israeli Hebrew and amplifying its contestatory potential. This exclusion resulted from the compounding effects of socioeconomic and geographical marginalization, both restricting Mizraḥim from accessing the metropolitan social centers where hegemonic gay identities were formed. The increased international travel and influence accessible to non-Mizraḥi Israeli gay men have meant their monopoly over formations of Israeli gay culture, language, and practices of desire (e.g. Orientalist fantasy³). This monopoly led to the reification of a cohesive gay identity that coalesced with the Eurocentric Zionist project. The monopolized Israeli gay culture strives to prove to the heterosexual majority that “we are just like you,” a strategy and self-representation that has been integral to this community’s social and political achievements (as LGBTQ+ advocacy groups within a wide range of Israeli political parties — like the Likud, Yesh Atid, and Meretz — prove). 

The monopolized Israeli gay culture strives to prove to the heterosexual majority that “we are just like you.”

The centrality of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in Israeli society, as well as the branding of Israel as a liberal (at least for the gay community) state, means that issues of sexual identity have often had to be reconciled with citizen rights at a much faster rate than in other countries. This famously played out in the case of Adir Shteiner, the partner of a deceased IDF employee, which became a watershed moment for Israelis in same-sex relationships demanding equal legal rights. When Dr. Doron Meisel, Shteiner’s partner and a military employee, died during service, Shteiner was not entitled to partner and family payments since their partnership was not legally recognised. After taking the case to court, Shteiner won his appeal and was recognized as legal partner to Dr. Meisel. This particular case was important for the state and the IDF because it helped protect against future defection and, once again, aided in branding Israel as a liberal country.

The work of filmmakers such as Yariv Mozer, Amos Guttman, and Eytan Fox, among others, serve as good examples of this branding. They have been integral to the dissemination of a hegemonically cohesive and nationalist gay identity; and their corpus of gay Israeli films represents the positive images and contributions that members of the gay community make to Israeli society and culture as normative citizens. Indeed, these films have improved and advanced the recognition Israeli gay men have in Israeli society, moving them, in the Israeli phrase, “me-haaron lasalon”  (“from the closet to the living room”). 

As professor of Israeli cinema Raz Yosef has shown extensively in his work Beyond Flesh: Queer Masculinities and Nationalism in Israeli Cinema (2004), while Israeli film and television have attempted to represent a diversity of masculinities, sexualities, and gender identities on the screen, the racial identities of their protagonists remain almost completely Ashkenazi. At the same time, while we see more gay Israeli Ashkenazi men on the screen, the representations of Mizraḥi men remain linked to those of the Bourekas, a genre from the mid-twentiethth century that reproduces racist portrayals of Mizraḥim. As this corpus of gay Israeli films becomes more established, the place of Mizraḥim in Israeli society is once again peripheralized through omission. In opposition to the image of the first-generation Mizraḥi man4 disseminated, in part, through the Bourekas genre, Mizraḥi men themselves reconceived what Mizraḥi male physicality and sexuality could be. Yosef expounds: 

“Mizraḥi social activist men constructed the narrative of the defeated ‘castrated’ father in order to constitute their resistance to Ashkenazi supremacy and to produce the image of the new Mizraḥi man. The desire for a new kind of strong, brave, tough heterosexual Mizraḥi masculinity was predicted by the need to contest the conditions of dependency and enslavement that the Ashkenazi oppressive regime enforced.”

Ultra-masculine Mizraḥi narratives sought to permute the physicality and sexuality not afforded to them in hegemonic Zionist narratives. These masculine retorts sought to establish in the Ashkenazi and Mizraḥi gazes a capable, tough, and firmly monolithic heterosexual identity. Off-screen, Mizraḥi academic and critical work and integration into hegemonic discourse evidenced the intertextual formulation of a fully permutated model of heterosexual, nationalist Mizraḥi male identity. In effect, Mizraḥim began to have a stronger voice in Israeli society. 

Ze’ev Revaḥ’s films, however, show an alternative Mizraḥi sexuality on the screen. His works refute the ostensibly oppositional masculine Mizraḥi subject. Yosef celebrates the direction and performance of Revaḥ’s narratives for not only contesting the Ashkenazi construction of “the Mizraḥi” but also contesting the masculine Mizraḥi reaction to that construction. Critically, Yosef notes that Revaḥ’s works see Mizraḥi male sexuality as an opportunity:

 “the realm of sex offers for Mizraḥi males a space for emotional and bodily expression, self-encouragement and self-affirmation that contests the oppressive conditions of Israeli social reality.”  

It is in this moment of contesting Israeli gender and race norms that oxchit and oxchot enter the scene. Oxchit, the gender-bending Mizraḥi sociolect spoken by queer Mizraḥim, is an alternative register of Israelit. I interpret the word “oxcha” as a blatant challenge to the ubiquitous Israelit word aḥi, (“my brother”), used traditionally by Mizraḥi men as an expression of homosocial machismo. Using oxcha localizes Mizraḥi identity in Israeli society by borrowing from Arabic rather than appropriating the gendered Hebrew opposite of aḥi — aḥoti (“my sister”). The very choice of the word signals the carving out of a new space. 

The machismo of Mizraḥi men described above by Yosef, which is a direct oppositional response to the formulation of the “Mizraḥi male” by Zionism, uses a Hebrew term — aḥi — to cross the boundary between Zionism and Mizraḥi-ness. Aḥi bears a tough sort of racialized periphery identity that signals both hard masculinity and intimacy. The use of this word for IDF comrades, passers-by on the street, and indeed brothers themselves speaks to the desires of Mizraḥi men to move from the social margins of Israeli society into the center. 

Oxcha pivots from this Mizraḥi machismo and refuses the Ashkenazi Zionist access to the Mizraḥi male body. Hegemonic Israeli culture represented the Mizraḥi male oversaturated with every feature threatening to the state — whether it was sexuality, laziness, chauvinism (which stood in contrast to Zionism’s claim to “equality” of the sexes in pioneer labor), or temperament. Sexually, Yosef argues that the Mizraḥi male body became associated with Zionist colonial fantasy, that is, the arena of desire outside of organized/ordained/acceptable sexual behavior for the new Ashkenazi Israelis. By borrowing from Arabic, the term oxcha roots the referent in an ethnic identity that the Zionist project attempted, and continues to attempt, to erase. In Yair Qedar’s 2009 film HaZman HaVerod (Gay Days), Israeli musician and political activist Sharon Ben-Ezer says the following:

“Even today I have a lot of respect for feminine men, for Oxchot, because they stand against the militaristic, macho culture of Israel. They even refer to themselves in the feminine and I think that’s wonderful.”

Oxcha pivots from this Mizraḥi machismo and refuses the Ashkenazi Zionist access to the Mizraḥi male body.

Filmmaker Yariv Mozer, who typically leans nationalist in his work, attempts to situate these polyphonic Mizraḥi identities in one particular short film. In 2008 he directed a number of shorts with the Proyekt haKolNoa haLesbi-homo-trans-biseksuel called Sipurei-mitot” (“Bed Stories”) that sought to disseminate representations of “normal” Israeli queers getting ready for bed by doing “normal” activities like undressing and using their computers. These  “normal” activities intend to contest notions of the bed as an exclusively sexual site, and of queer people as over-sexed, by showing them in the bedroom while engaging in typical conversations and disputes at the end of the day. 

In one example Tzeva (“Army”), two Mizraḥi men begin to undress on either side of the bed, both out of their military uniforms, while one of the soldiers tells the other about his day. In the screenplay, director Yariv Mozer and screenwriter Yiftach Mizrahi specify: “… and the second, a soldier in aviation, talpiot, or something light, with glasses and a built chest; oxcha in the way he sounds but not in his looks.” This oxcha sound signifies the linguistic mechanisms translated above: referring to all people and objects in the feminine, speaking from the feminine gendered stance, using Hebraized forms of Gay International language, and, importantly, including terms from Arabic — even ones that have Hebrew equivalents. However, in this particular short film, Mozer domesticates the oxcha identity in an IDF narrative. The soldier’s scripted speech entangles IDF slang and terminology (קבינט, פקד חיל חימוש, קצין, חטיבתית, הרס”ר, תרגילי קטח) with the Arabic meant to indicate the speaker’s oxcha-ness. 

When discussing Mizraḥi lexical choice between Arabic and Hebrew, sociolinguistics professor Dr. Yehudit Henskhe in her article “On the Mizrahi Sociolect in Israel: A Sociolexical Consideration of the Hebrew of Israelis of North African Origin” (2013), notes the following:

“Although most of these words have direct, fluent Hebrew translations, here too the speakers from the periphery prefer the Arabic terms. Because their emotional component evidently remained deeply imprinted in the linguistic code, these words retained their full emotional signification and their link in collective memory to Mizraḥi traditions and culture.” 

In particular, she lists one word that the soldier uses in the short film above, “daba,” when describing a horrible woman at work. The Israelit equivalent is behema (Hebrew for “beast,” the plural of which, behemot, is the source for the English “behemoth”). But this Hebrew word does not connote the same image of an actual animal with describable characteristics, instead referring  to a mythological creature found in the Bible. The Hebrew thus does not allow for the emotional reaction that the speaker desires, especially when so much of Biblical imagery and language has been absorbed into contemporary Zionist politics. Additionally, the soldier would not know how to translate any of the IDF terms into Arabic, even if he wanted to, as there is no likelihood that the two men would have served in an Arabic-speaking military unit and would have a shared set of Arabic terms to draw from. As such, where there is an opportunity to use an Arabic word, the soldier activates his supposed oxcha identity, even when his linguistic positioning is thoroughly footed in normative Israelit slang.

This filmic text, though not confrontational with the Mizraḥi masculinity from which oxchit usually stands at a distance, does complicate the meaning of oxcha. Where oxcha had an impetus to confront the Zionist narrative’s masculinist identity on both sides of the Ashkenazi/Mizraḥi dichotomy, this short film attempts to normalize oxcha identity in a manner typical to the Zionist project (and that of the Gay International), by situating oxchot in state-building projects (like the IDF) and disseminating these situations through the channels of film and television. In doing so, the critical and confrontational potential of both Mizraḥi and oxcha cultural expression is co-opted and neutralized. Such representations seek to regulate oxcha language, and the Mizraḥi male sexual desires from which its born, according to the identity of an abstract, normatively Ashkenazi, Israeli citizen.

In the television series Ima v’Abaz, the male protagonist has three friends affectionately known as “the oxchot of Ima v’Abaz.” In one episode, Mani (of the three) greets the other two and the following interaction takes place:

!מני: היי בנים

.ניסו: יא, היי! רק איפה את רואה בנים, אני לא מבינה

עוז: תגידי לי, איך המלהקים של מחוברים הצליחו למצוא מכל ההומואיות בתל אביב את האוחצ’ה הכי סתומה ושטחית בעיר

!מני: אל תוציאו אותי מהארון בטלוויזיה, מפגרת

!עוז: איזה טלוויזיה, יא עלובה. חצי מדינה מסתובבה עם מצלמה ביד

After Mani addresses his friends in the masculine, his friends are quick to reprimand him, either by correction or by re-indexing their collective linguistic gender performance as gay men who address each other and self-refer in the feminine. Additionally, the inclusion of Arabic expletives, such as “ya” (יא) and other Arabic adjectives intentionally represents their identity as an effeminate, oxcha linguistic performance. 

Uriel Yekutiel (who plays Niso in the above interaction) has been massively influential in spreading the oxcha identity in Israeli society. Known as the face of the Tel Aviv dance party Arisa, Yekutiel starred in YouTube drag music videos that were commercials for the monthly party. Launched around 2010, these parties feature guest appearances from famous Mizraḥi musicians and attract a wide demographic of partygoers. 

In commercials for the party, Yekutiel and his co-actors often dress in traditional, what would often be construed as stereotypical, Mizraḥi clothing (whether men’s or women’s). Yekutiel himself consistently maintains a conservative moustache, echoing the moustaches of the Mizraḥi Black Panthers. Here, Yekutiel’s mixture of masculine and feminine work as a clash of sexual semiotics. 

The object of Yekutiel’s affection is often Eliad Cohen, the muscular, gold chain-wearing, dark-featured poster boy of the party who represents the neo-Mizraḥi masculine (aḥi). The two enact a sort of hopeless lover relationship, as Cohen remains close to Yekutiel but never intimately engages with him. In some commercials, Cohen is even physically abusive. Only ever hinting at sexual availability, the videos always hold intimacy at a distance — a general (though not absolute) feature of Middle Eastern music, performances, and music videos. This unattainability subverts the Zionist misconceptualization of Mizraḥi men as oversexed while also aligning with broader Middle Eastern media that intentionally omit Orientalist (e.g. hypersexualized) representations of Middle Eastern cultures. 

Crucially, all of the songs of longing or love used in the videos are normally performed by Mizraḥi women artists. This allows Yekutiel to lip sync in the feminine grammatical voice, complicating the standard notion of homosexual love. In a gendered language like Hebrew, a same-sex relationship is reflected through grammar by a speaker speaking from the same gendered position as that of the person about which they speak. When Yekutiel lip-syncs in the feminine and addresses the object of his affection in the masculine, he contests the image of same-sex desire that normative gay Israeli culture attempts to solidify by emphatically representing images of same-gender intimacy. Yekutiel’s lip-syncing thus significantly undercuts the regimented “one type” sexuality, in which a (masculine) man couples with another (masculine) man. Additionally, by lip-syncing to songs composed by Mizraḥi musicians, Yekutiel activates Mizraḥi ideological languages of romance to communicate his longing, which include Arabic loan words and pronunciations that help reconstitute oxcha’s exclusivity and reinforce its alternativeness.

In the autumn of 2014, Yekutiel and the other organizers of Arisa released a video that directly confronted and opposed both Gay International culture and the phenomenon of Israeli gays “escaping” to Europe. Sung by Margalit Tzan’ani, Po Zeh Lo Europa” (“This is Not Europe”) directly mocked the wave of anti-Israel, liberal-left sentiment seeking either to transform Israel into a more European society or flight abroad. The very act of leaving Israel begs many questions: Who can afford to leave Israel? Who can speak European languages? It also highlights the privileges of European Jewish descendants who are increasingly applying for European citizenship, a process foreclosed from Middle Eastern Jews. The impact of the video lies not only in Yekutiel’s drag performance, in which he nostalgically dons European colonial clothing, but also in the very act of a feminine Mizraḥi rebuke of Ashkenazi privilege. 

The very act of leaving Israel begs many questions: Who can afford to leave Israel? Who can speak European languages? 

That same year Dana International, a Mizraḥi trans woman, released a music video to the classic Israeli song Yeledim zeh Simha” (“Children are a Joy”). (While International is not a gay man, her success in providing the biggest promotional video for Tel Aviv Pride’s 2014 festivities, speaks to the manner in which Mizraḥi experiences are being co-opted for state projects.) This song, written by Yehoshua Sobol, originally critiqued the loss of Israel’s children to the IDF and, ultimately, its wars. International, however, takes a different approach. In her version, International is celebrating her son’s bar mitzvah in the Great Synagogue of Tel Aviv. This synagogue is decorated with the same stained glass windows as European synagogues destroyed in the Holocaust. The light that fills the synagogue thus travels through windows that themselves represent the European and Ashkenazi frames that constitute Jewish narrative in Israel. International, standing in the women’s section, stands out tall in her black clothing. As the women and young boys observe International’s son read from the Torah, she sings the song that, in this situation, one can read as a critique of her son’s integration into Israeli hegemony5. Towards the end of the music video, the bar mitzvah boy is seen bleeding from his nose, following the traditional throwing of candy at him. Using lyrics that are critical of the Israeli drafting process, International displays her occupation of Ashkenazi space not only by filling the synagogue with her commanding presence  as a Mizraḥi woman but also by remixing the lyrics with a distinctly Mizraḥi beat.

When I wrote the first version of this paper in 2016, these linguistic practices and visual performances seemed mostly peripheral and without an entry point into the Israeli mainstream culture. Recently, however, and not only in Israel, organizations like A Wider Bridge (which focuses on LGBTQ+ rights in Israel) and JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) have directed greater attention to Mizraḥi experiences and Israeli LGTBQ+ politics. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs even officially commemorates Mizraḥi migration to Israel/Palestine annually, recounting “the tragedy of people who were forced to flee from their homes and to leave the countries where they had lived for millennia, solely because of their Jewish identity.”

But now these phenomena require some additional qualifications. In the 2018 “Basic Law, the Israeli Knesset demoted Arabic from Israel’s official second language to a language with special status.6 While often understood as a direct attack on Palestinian culture and mobility in Israeli society, we must also consider that there are many Arab Jewish immigrants that only speak Arabic (and, for that matter, many Jewish Israelis that only speak Yiddish7). This law attempts to establish Hebrew, and only a certain form of Israeli Hebrew, as the language of civilian membership in Israel/Palestine. Additionally, the rights of Israeli and Palestinian queer communities are now continually attacked by religious leaders of the state and occupied territories. And finally, narratives of Jewish experience in the Muslim world are being refashioned by the state and Zionist organizations to fit a victim’s narrative, working against Mizraḥi endeavors to connect to an Arabic identity and past. These three considerations are important for understanding how the position of the Mizraḥi queer community in Israeli society today is both defined and manipulated, continuing the process of “de-Arabization,” social engineering, and state re-branding that has been occurring for almost 80 years. 

What I have attempted to show in this investigation into a tiny, minority-within-a-minority community’s linguistic performances is how the notion of being a queer and/or Israeli Arab continues to be a difficult notion for Israeli institutions and the broader hegemony to swallow. Even the term Mizraḥi — while it anchors us in a dichotomy and functions as a reference point within that dichotomy — speaks to a binary and racist understanding of the Jewish world. While queer and Mizraḥi performers, such as Dana International and Uriel Yekutiel, seem to enjoy their moment in the limelight, the socio-political histories and realities that determine these moments must be neither misunderstood nor forgotten. These performances critique an Israeli status quo that also effects the experiences and identities of Palestinian Israelis, Palestinians, asylum seekers, refugees, migrant workers, and other Jewish minorities including Chinese, Indian, Ethiopian, and Uganadan Jews. I focus on contentions in Hebrew not only because of my background as a linguist but also because of Hebrew’s important role in reflecting the state of Jewish culture and politics. If we are to see Hebrew — as well as the collective Jewish people — decolonized, refusing to perform in what Daniel Boyarin has termed “colonial drag,” then we must bring a diverse cacophony of representations and voices into the language, as well as into our religious and cultural institutions, communities, and very notions of Israeliness and Jewishness.

  1. In transliterating the Hebrew word מִזְרָחִי, I prefer to useḥ” for the Hebrew letter חִ (ḥet), whereas I prefer to use “ch” or “x” for the Hebrew letter כ (chaf), except for the word Oxcha, which is transliterated differently for legibility. This transliteration practice retains the Mizraḥi distinction between the two fricatives. Where the prior is softer and closer to an English “h,” the latter is slightly harsher. 
  2. In Iraqi Arabic, oxcha (sister) + the Hebrew suffix for feminine plural -ot
  3. See Joseph Massad’s Desiring Arabs (2007)
  4. My use of “first-generation Mizrai men” reflects the idea that the very term “Mizrai” is an Israel-specific term created and disseminated in early twentieth century Israel/Palestine. Racializing Jews from the Muslim and Orthodox Christian societies and thereby solidifying their continued disenfrachisement. “Mizrai” thus anchors us in a discussion of racial politics that I believe will eventually see the term abandoned.
  5. This music video is much more loaded than the singular reading I’ve given it. It also comments on reproduction, heteronormative family values, and more. 
  6. For an important perspective on the actual status of Arabic, see Jnan Bsoul’s video.
  7. See Dr. Dan Avnon’s work Civic Education in Israel (2013) on the linguistic peripheralisation of non-Hebrew speakers in Israeli society.

Maor lives in Stockholm, Sweden, and is a graduate student in Middle Eastern Studies at Stockholm University. His work focuses on Arab Jewish experiences in contemporary Israeli society and the cultural production of these experiences He also focuses on Arab Jewish contributions to contemporary pan-Arab cultural life.