Erez Biton becomes first poet of Mizrahi descent to win Israel Prize in Literature

Israel Prizes awarded in film, literature categories.

Erez Biton (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Erez Biton
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Renowned Israeli cinematographer David Gurfinkel will be awarded the Israel Prize in Film, and poet Erez Biton will receive the Israel Prize in Literature, the Education Ministry announced on Sunday.
Gurfinkel is best known for his involvement in Israeli classic movies including Hashoter Azulai (1971), Hagiga B’Snooker (1975) and Kazablan (1973) as well as for his work in US films The Delta Force (1986) and Over the Top (1987).
“The prize is being awarded to [Gurfinkel] for the glorious journey he has undertaken and his uncontested mark on the Israeli film industry,” wrote the Israel Prize committee, headed by famed Israeli actor Yoram Gaon – who appeared in Kazablan.
The committee praised Gurfinkel as “a figure, who as a cinematographer, accompanied Israeli film since its founding.
David is a cinematographer who uses the harsh light, the land of Israel as the infrastructure for photographic art.”
The other members of the prize committee for film included Prof. Ram Loevy, award-winning director and screenwriter; Mordechai Shklar, the previous director-general of the IBA; and film director Dror Sabo.
Biton, who has been blind since childhood, was born in Algeria and is the first poet of Mizrahi descent to win the Israel Prize in Literature.
His well-known works include 1976’s Mincha Marokait (Moroccan Gift); 1979’s Sefer Hanana (Book of Mint); 1989’s Tzipor Ben Yabashot (Bird between Continents); and 2009’s Timbisert, A Moroccan Bird.
“The five books of poetry he published... are the epitome of courageous dealings,” wrote the Israel Prize committee, “sensitive and deep with a wide range of personal and collective experiences centered around the pain of migration, planting roots in the country and the reestablishment of the Mizrahi identity as an integral part of the overall Israeli portrait.”
The judging panel was headed by Prof. Avner Holzman and Prof. Hagit Halperin and author Gail Hareven. This year’s Israel Prize has been mired in scandal after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempt to change the makeup of the judging panels, leading to many resignations and withdrawals.