Leaving in the Adjectives
Arab and Jew is not David Shipler's first book-length attempt to explain a foreign culture to an American audience. In 1983, he published Russia: Broken Idols, Solemn Dreams based upon his four years in the Soviet Union, where he served as a correspondent and later bureau chief for The New York Times. While Shipler says it was much easier to be a reporter in Israel than in Russia--"Israel is a flagrantly open society"--in both countries he faced the difficulty of reporting on a society about which many Americans had strong preconceptions.
"There are [those] who are very supportive of Israel who have in their minds a perfect dream of what Israel should be and imagine that it really is that," he said in a recent interview. "I think those people get very angry with reporters who tell them otherwise....A lot of people who haven't really dealt closely with Israel tend to imagine Israel as an entire country of highly educated Western Jews where every colonel is a chess master and every general plays the violin."
It was also difficult, he says, to dig too far beneath the surface while writing for a daily paper. "The general American public is probably not as informed as it might be because the press--and I'm as guilty of this as anyone--tends to portray the highlights of the military and political conflict. When you're a reporter in Israel you're running constantly trying to keep up with events."
Upon his return to America in 1984 after five years in Israel, Shipler took a leave of absence from The Times and spent a year as a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, where he wrote Arab and Jew. "I felt I had to be true to my own impressions and views, and that I had to write in my own voice. This is always hard for a Times reporter because you're forced into a mold in the news columns of The Times. It's on the one hand this, on the other hand that that and rarely are you free to really write the way you want to write and the way you feel you can write."
"If you try it, very often the editors will take out the adjectives."