The Arty Semite

From Serious News to the Tabloids

By Martin Fletcher

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Martin Fletcher’s newest book, “Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation,” will be available tomorrow. His blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series, please visit:


I left NBC News to write books. Which explains why I quickly found myself back on their doorstep, begging for work — paid work.

But I didn’t expect this. Here are a few of the stories I’ve reported on as a freelancer in NBC’s London bureau in the last few weeks: a shark attack in Australia, an internet blogger accused of rape in Sweden, a British woman who dumped a cat in the garbage bin, another British woman who urinated on a war memorial, a spy’s sexy photo shoot in Russia. The high point, literally, was going up in a hot air balloon with a glass floor which crashed on landing and came within three yards of being dragged into a river. All network stories.

It wasn’t the kind of writing I imagined when I resigned in December, but guess what? I love it: all the silliness, the bad puns, the tabloid humor. I found myself chuckling as I wrote about Bad British Babes and the cold war femme fatale who’s hot! And sighing at the mandatory lurid speculation when a British spy was found stuffed inside a sports bag in the bath.

The thing is, they’re good stories that people care about, and I began to think that maybe reporting on them wasn’t so different from writing books, or even from reporting serious news. After all, it’s all about telling stories about people in a way that other people will care about.

That’s really all I wanted to do with my new book “Walking Israel.” I wanted to get away from seeing Israel only through a single prism, that of the conflict with the Arabs, and see the country for what it really is: a fascinating place with fascinating people whose lives are so much more than just a people at war.

People were always phoning me and asking if it was safe to visit Israel. I would say yes, and then they’d call me after a week in Israel and say, wow, what a great place, I had no idea. And so I wanted to write a book about that great place about which so many people have no idea.

I walked along the coast, from Lebanon to Gaza, meeting Israelis of all kinds, Jews and Arabs, and followed up on their stories for a year. And although I’ve reported from Israel for close to 30 years, I’ve never enjoyed any research or writing as much as working on this book. And I hope that I have presented Israel in an entirely new light.

Martin Fletcher spent the last 30 years as NBC News Bureau Chief in Tel Aviv. His second book, “Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation,” will be available tomorrow.

The Jewish Book Council is a not-for-profit devoted to the reading, writing, and publishing of Jewish literature. For more Jewish literary blog posts, reviews of Jewish books, book club resources, and to learn about awards and conferences, please visit www.jewishbookcouncil.org.

MyJewishLearning.com is the leading transdenominational website of Jewish information and education. Visit MyJewishLearning for thousands of articles on Judaism, Jewish holidays, Jewish history, and more.


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