Cool things I learned from Ari Shavit


Ari Shavit is described in his book jacket bio as “a leading Israeli journalist, a columnist for Haaretz, and a commentator on Israeli public television.” If you were to summarize a person in one sentence, I suppose this would be an alright way of describing Mr. Shavit, though it does not nearly scratch the surface.

Shavit is on campus today to promote his new, bestselling nonfiction book, My Promised Land, which tells the story of how Israel came to be, using anecdotes and narrative form. This morning, he led a group of ten students in what was supposed to be a workshop on writing and journalism; however, the “workshop” quickly evolved into an enlightening discussion not only about the writing process, but about finding one’s identity and formulating opinions on a campus as polarized and as passionate as Brown’s.

Most, if not all, of what Shavit had to say is simply too valuable – too intriguing – to keep to myself. So, for those of you who weren’t there, here’s a taste of Ari Shavit’s thoughts on journalism, writing, ideology, Israel, and so much more:

On the process of writing a large compositional work, like a book:

“First, writing is like this – go wild. No limits. Eat everything… Don’t censor yourself. There are always stages where you will be able to censor yourself.”

“The first half [of the writing process] has to be very warm, boiling, like lava. The second part is a cooling process… The best way to do it is to give it some time.”

“I know where I am going although I cannot define it… Writing a book is the closest a man can come to being pregnant.”

On the revision process: 

“You kill your darlings… To this day, there are things in the last chapter that are missing, and it kills me. But they didn’t belong there.”

On writing about Israel: 

“There is so much drama there… In Israel, you have to be active to get the stories out of people. So come to Israel to learn how to write.”

“I think I am a person who has a very strong ‘I’ and a very strong ‘we’… on the other hand, I have a very strong Jewish/Israeli ‘we’ feeling.”

“On the one hand I am critical… most of the motions I evoke in Israel come from the people who are much more critical than me… On my paper  – Haaretz  – I am the fascist! I also have quite a complex view of the military  – I know we need an IDF… Yeah, I am critical of the nature of the government, but even Netanyahu, who is so hated, I have a complicated relationship with… Some people see him as a demon. I see him as an intelligent, problematic man.”

“They don’t know what to do with me. Am I righty-lefty, am I lefty-right? I make my mistakes on my own.”

“There is a way to love Israel while being critical. That is the better way. Loving a top model is easy.”

“Israel built force out of weakness. It is not America. It is not China.”

On interviewing Prime Minister Netanyahu:

“I am not a tough interviewer. What I cannot stand is talking points.”

“Someone like Mr. Netanyahu, I have a very dark and stormy relationship with, and he has a dark, stormy relationship with me… My hub of Israel thought he was the antichrist… At this time, he was a very suspicious guy. I remember the moment he realized I could quote him  – that I knew him by heart. And then the interview started.”

“You have to [interview] someone that you care enough about… Go for someone that evokes something in you that’s really important…. You have so much more if you could really master the subject matter.”

On American journalism: 

“I am so troubled by what’s going on in your media. Between Fox and MSNBC… If you don’t have the ability to struggle with the complexity by working with only one side of the field, you lost.”

“I don’t think the truth is always in the center. But you need to prove to me what you are saying, then we can accept that radical idea. Prove to me that you see both, and then give me your view.”

Ari will be giving an open talk tonight at 7pm in Wilson 102 about his book and his thoughts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

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