Sightless in Bethlehem
Sightless in Bethlehem

“Israel made me hate it” has long been a common theme among Jewish critics of Israel. In fact, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman practically built his career out of it, winning a Pulitzer Prize for a book based on the claim that he was an uncritical supporter of Israel until he covered the 1982 Lebanon war, where he saw outrageous Israeli behavior that changed his mind.

That version of Friedman’s biography turned out to bea fabrication. In 1990, pro-Israel activists revealed that he actually had been a hostile critic of Israel all the way back to his days as a student at Brandeis University, in the early 1970s. He was the leader of a student group that publicly derided Israel’s Labor government for not negotiating with Yasir Arafat, and condemned the Jewish community for protesting against Arafat’s infamous speech at the United Nations.

But back in 1990, before there was an internet, it wasn’t hard for anyone to get away with misrepresenting his biography. The exposure of Friedman’s lies was buried, and he was soon promoted to the position of op-ed columnist for the Times, a perch from which he has bashed Israel on countless occasions.

Now it looks like a new generation is taking up where Friedman left off in the department of creative autobiographical writing. Case in point: Jacob Plitman, the 27 year-old editor of the far-left magazine Jewish Currents.

Recently, a major article in the New York Jewish Week featured Plitman, describing him as being at the center of an “emerging new Jewish left” that is more willing than its elders to criticize Israel. And how did Plitman get to be a critic of Israel? You guessed it—Israel made him hate it.

As a youngster, “his parents sent him to a Young Judea camp.” Plitman “soaked up its messaging on Israel and Zionism,” so much so that he decided to spend his gap year in Israel. And then came The Great Disillusionment.

“His rosy view of Zionism began to change,” the article reported, when Plitman “visited Bethlehem” (interesting choice for a Jewish tourist) “and came face to face with Palestinians for the first time. ‘The things that I saw there were more powerful than my ability to ignore them’,” Plitman told the Jewish Week. As a result, Plitman and his magazine now devote themselves to railing against “the occupation” and “the settlers.”

That’s his version. But I have my suspicions. Here’s why.

When Plitman walked around Bethlehem that afternoon in 2009 (his gap year), he couldn’t have seen any Israeli soldiers or Jewish “settlers.” Because there weren’t any.
Bethlehem is not “occupied” by Israel. It’s been under the exclusive rule of the Palestinian Authority since 1995—which is to say, since Jacob Plitman was four years old.

When Plitman walked around Bethlehem that afternoon in 2009 (his gap year), he couldn’t have seen any Israeli soldiers or Jewish “settlers.” Because there weren’t any. He could only have seen Palestinian police, Palestinian-run schools, Palestinian-run hospitals, and Palestinian trash-collectors— in other words, complete Palestinian self-governance.

I can think of a few things that should have discomfited Plitman about Bethlehem. Like the fact that most of the city’s Christians have been driven out by Muslim extremists. Or the fact that Bethlehem’s residents, like other PA residents, have not been allowed to vote in a presidential election since 2005.

If Israel was driving Arabs out of some city, or refusing to allow democratic elections, I’m sure Jacob Plitman and his friends would be hollering in protest. But the fact that Mahmoud Abbas is now serving in the 13th year of his four-year presidential term doesn’t seem to bother them very much.

If Plitman looked across the street from Bethlehem, he may have noticed that the Israelis have built a large protective wall around the Tomb of Rachel separating it from the rest of Bethlehem. And Rachel’s tomb itself, long famous for its twin pillar entrance being right on the road, is now located within a concrete structure.  Both were built because Palestinian snipers and bomb-throwers in Bethlehem were constantly shooting and throwing bombs at the Jewish holy site, and the PA did absolutely nothing to stop the attacks.

You can imagine the angry headlines that would appear in Jewish Currents if Israeli snipers and bomb-throwers were regularly assaulting some Muslim holy site. But when Palestinians do it to a Jewish holy site, Jacob Plitman turns a blind eye.

I don’t know exactly when, or why, Jacob Plitman became so hostile to Israel. But his claim that it was caused by what Israel is supposedly doing in Bethlehem is obviously false. Maybe it’s time he took responsibility for his own opinions, instead of trying to blame Israel for them.

Stephen M. Flatow, an attorney in New Jersey, is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. His book, “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror,” will be published later this year.