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Sami Michael, a prominent Iraqi-Israeli author known for his poignant writing about oppressed minorities and the challenges faced by Mizrahi Jews, passed away at the age of 97. Born in Baghdad in 1926, Michael was forced to flee Iraq in 1948 due to an arrest warrant and eventually settled in Israel in 1949. His characters often reflected Arabic-speaking Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, shedding light on the unique struggles of Mizrahi Jews and his close relationships with Israeli Palestinians in Haifa, where he lived.

Despite growing up in an environment filled with Iraq’s rich cultural traditions, Michael faced discrimination from Israel’s European-influenced Jewish leadership towards Mizrahi Jews. He was critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and advocated for oppressed minorities throughout his life. Michael served as the president of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel for over twenty years, expressing his pain and outrage towards injustices and inspiring hope for change before his passing in September.

After arriving in Israel, Michael worked as a journalist for the Communist Party’s Arabic-language newspaper in Haifa before transitioning to a career as a hydrologist with the Israel Hydrologic Authority. Following a 20-year hiatus from writing, Michael published his first novel in Hebrew in 1974, addressing the struggles of Mizrahi Jews in adjusting to life in Israel. Throughout his career, he wrote over 20 novels, children’s books, plays, essays, and cultural criticism, with several of his works adapted into films and winning top literary prizes in Israel.

In a 2018 interview with Haaretz newspaper, Michael emphasized the role of culture in highlighting ignorance, injustice, and corruption, stating that he felt compelled to take a stand against Israeli policies that he believed were leading the country down a harmful path. He believed that action, rather than just signing petitions, was necessary for intellectuals and consumers of culture to effect real change in society. Michael’s legacy as a writer who used his platform to speak out against injustice and advocate for social change has left a lasting impact on literature and social activism in Israel.

President Isaac Herzog remembered Sami Michael as a “giant among giants” who enriched Israel’s literary landscape and made significant contributions to the cultural dialogue in the country. Michael is survived by his two children from his first marriage and his second wife, journalist Rachel Yona Michael. As a writer who bridged the gap between Jews and Arabs through his work, Sami Michael’s legacy continues to inspire those who seek to shed light on injustices and promote dialogue and understanding among diverse communities.

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