Skip to main content
Northwestern University

A Tribute to Israeli Author Sami Michael

Sami Michael is the “ultimate non-conformist of Israel,” says Benny Ziffer, literary editor of the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.

Michael is an Israeli author who has published 11 novels, as well as numerous plays and nonfiction books. What makes Michael’s work so unique, says Ziffer, is that he writes from the perspectives of both Arabs and Jews, as well as both men and women. This controversial style has earned Michael praise as well as scorn from critics.

An activist as well as an author, Michael says it’s not difficult to write about controversial issues. In a conversation with Ziffer at Lutkin Hall in October, Michael said, “If I don’t write, I stay mad.” Michael is the president of The Association of Civil Rights in Israel.

This conversation was a part of the opening session of “Between Baghdad and Haifa: A Tribute to Israeli Author Sami Michael” The three-day tribute began on Oct. 7, and was presented by The Crown Family Center for Jewish and Israel Studies as well as the Heksherim Research Institute for Jewish and Israeli Literature & Culture at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The conference included five more sessions over two more days, with 13 speakers discussing topics explored in Michael’s novels, such as multiculturism, gender and the notion of the “other” in Israeli society.

Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro and Weinberg College Dean Adrian Randolph attended the opening session and welcomed participants to the event.

Michael was born to a Jewish family in Baghdad and grew up in a neighborhood with Muslim, Jewish and Christian families. He started writing for the Iraqi press at the age of 17, but was forced to flee the country five years later due to his political activities. Michael moved to Israel and worked as a hydrologist for 25 years before publishing his first novel, All Men Are Equal — But Some Are More, in 1974.

While Michael considers himself to be an “Israeli patriot”, he said he does not identify as a Zionist. “I am not Zionist. I am not anti-Zionist, I am not pro-Zionist. I don’t want to live in a world without variety,” he explained.

Following the conversation, Israeli musician Yair Dalal performed Iraqi-Jewish music on the oud and violin.

Weinberg College co-sponsored the event, along with the Israel Institute, The Buffett Institute for Global Studies, the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, the Comparative Literary Studies Program, and the Middle East and North African Studies Program. The event was chaired by Elie Rekhess of Northwestern University and Yigal Schwartz of Ben-Gurion University.

Back to top