The day Israel released the baby-murdering Arab terrorist Samir Kuntar was without doubt the most disgraceful in modern Jewish history.

  Israel paid tribute to the Hizbullah terrorists for murdering Jewish soldiers by freeing Kuntar, much as it had done four years earlier when it let go hundreds of jailed terrorists to buy back the corpses of three murdered Israeli soldiers and one live businessman involved with drug smugglers.

  The deaths of the murdered soldiers – as well as the deaths that have resulted from the firing of Katyusha rockets into northern Israel – have never been avenged.

  This most recent exchange was an act of capitulation without precedent. The Arabs have not only always tried to make the point that killing Jewish children and civilians is a legitimate means of warfare, for decades they’ve attempted to coerce Israel into publicly and officially acquiescing in accepting this definition of Jewish inferiority. They do so by equating murderers of Jewish children with combat soldiers, and demanding that Israel agree to do the same.

  A terrorist who blows up a bus full of children is as legitimate a combatant as any soldier, the Arabs imply, because the terrorist’s civilian victims were Jews and thus do not count as human. Therefore, a terrorist should not be regarded as any different from a soldier in a boat or a plane engaged in military combat.

  Israel had always refused to accept the anti-Semitic equating of murderers of Jewish children with combat soldiers, a formula strongly evocative of the claims of Jewish racial inferiority from a few decades earlier. No previous Israeli leader had accepted such a formula. Until Ehud Olmert. Desperate to divert national attention from his numerous legal problems, Olmert had no compunctions about sacrificing Jewish integrity.

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  We should not, however, make the mistake of blaming Olmert alone. The disgrace of purchasing corpses with the release of a baby-murderer was simply the ultimate manifestation of a national crisis of identity in Israel – a crisis that threatens Israel’s existence at least as much as the enemies that surround it.

  It has been evident for some time now that a great many Israelis – and most of the country’s political and intellectual elite – have lost their will to survive as a nation.


  • The same Israeli military that rescued Jewish hostages in Entebbe is now incapable of rescuing a soldier being held in violation of all the Oslo agreements inside the Gaza Strip, instead providing his kidnappers with free power and water.

  • Israel sits back passively as Hizbullah holds public celebrations of its humiliation of the Jewish state. There has not been a single move by Israeli politicians or opinion leaders to introduce the death penalty for terrorists precisely to avoid such future exchanges.

  • Israeli military officials whine that they are incapable of protecting children under fire in Sderot. Defeatism has replaced audacity as the calling card of the Israel Defense Forces and the intelligence services.

  • An Israel less than two full generations after the Holocaust is willing to hold “peace talks” with people who deny there ever was a Holocaust and who insist that Jews use the blood of gentile children to make Passover matzos.

  • The children and grandchildren of those Jews who fought against enormous odds and won with an arsenal of obsolete and near-obsolete weapons in 1948 have been acquiescing in a so-called peace process that involves unilateral gestures from Israel in exchange for the Arabs continuing to make war against the Jews.

  This is an Israel that seeks peace by pretending that war and anti-Semitism simply do not exist; an Israel that fights reality through passionate exercises in make-pretend.

  Starting with the Oslo peace process of the 1990s, Israeli leaders have insisted that peaceful relations with the Arabs can be achieved only by a long process of Jewish self-deprecation, self-denial and self-humiliation.

  Israel’s political elites have claimed over the past two decades that peace will come about only through Israel’s agreeing to turn over its heartland to terrorists – in other words, that security can be assured only by the abandonment of security.

  Israeli leaders insisted throughout the 1990s that if only Israel would jettison its traditional defense policies and instead trust in the goodwill generated by making concessions to the Palestinians, Jordanians, and Syrians, it would usher in an era of bliss.

  They convinced themselves that military force was pass?, that it no longer played a useful role – and this in the most barbarous region on the planet! They convinced themselves that peace could only be achieved through appeasement of evil and accommodation with anti-Semitism.

  Future historians will find it a daunting challenge to explain how Jews, often stereotyped as the smartest people in the world, could have allowed themselves to be snookered into the Oslo accords or could have sincerely believed that Israel would be able to do business in good faith first with the bloody degenerate Yasir Arafat and now with the irrelevant and powerless Mahmoud Abbas.

  How could seemingly intelligent people wager with their lives and place their faith in such absurdities?

  Only an abnormal people would have voluntarily entrusted their national security to a group of Islamofascist terrorists out of a misguided belief that Internet services and consumerism had rendered armies and territory superfluous.

  No people other than the Jews would reward their enemies for routinely violating every accord they’d ever signed – and reward them with pledges of new territory, more arms and greater funding.

  No nation on earth would tolerate living permanently under threat of genocide while pretending that those who do the threatening are actually peace-seeking moderates.

  So why are the Israeli leadership and the Israeli elites, particularly the media and the professoriate, guilty of all this?

  The answer, in my opinion, is the aforementioned crisis of identity that has engulfed Israel. The crisis is largely a byproduct of the failure of secular Zionism in its deluded attempt to define an “Israeliness” devoid of Jewishness. This has resulted in a confused populace increasingly incapable of understanding the nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

  An unprecedented number of Israelis do not know who they are and so do not understand why they need to survive. Only a rudderless Israel, an Israel blind to the lessons of Jewish history and removed from Jewish roots and national substance, could behave in such a manner.

  The Oslo years and what has occurred since have shown how shallow and empty is the whole enterprise known as secular Israeliness. In its bid to replace traditional Jewish identity with Hebrew-speaking consumerism and post-Jewish civil patriotism, secular Zionism in fact created a bizarre new entity riddled with uncertainty regarding its own identity and dominated by defeatism.

  Israeli secularism has bred masses of post-Zionists exhibiting virulent self-hatred and willing to blame Israel for all the problems created by Arab aggression and Islamofascism, and all too willing to sacrifice national interests upon pagan altars of political correctness.
  There was a time when it was widely presumed that secular Zionism and the establishment of Israel had achieved an irreversible victory over the plagues of Jewish assimilationism and self-hatred, not just among Jews living inside the Jewish state but also to a large extent among Diaspora Jewry.

  Secular Zionism represented a blending of modernity with Jewishness that involved neither the assimilationism of the radical anti-Orthodox reformers among Jews in the Diaspora or the traditional haredi rejectionism of modernity. It had achieved this via the invention of Israeliness.

  Israeliness meant an ever so modern state with high-tech industries cropping up everywhere like mushrooms, European standards of living and lifestyles, prestigious universities and scientific institutions, and a military of legendary prowess. And all this in a country whose raison d’?tre was, on the surface, to provide a national home for Jews.

  Certainly Israeliness had its problems from the start, not least of which was a dubious, if not outright hostile, attitude to Jewish tradition. Israel’s intellectual, journalistic, academic and artistic elites long displayed a deep animosity toward matters of religion and religious people, an antipathy shared by parts of the broader secularist population. Their only interest in Jewish ethics was when those ethics could be misrepresented to advance a leftist political agenda.

  In the first decades of Israel’s existence, the celebration of Israeliness took many forms, including those that downplayed the role of Jewishness in the state and in Israeli public life. The secular Israeli school curriculum was largely stripped of Jewish content. Jewish history in the typical Israel school ended at Masada or with Bar Kochba and then mysteriously rematerialized at the first Zionist Congress in Basel. Jewish religion, other than when the Bible was taught superficially, was eliminated almost altogether from the curriculum, except in the religious schools.

  And yet, until recently, few would have questioned the basic conclusion that secular Zionism was an unqualified Jewish national success. Israel’s political leadership may have been self-deluded on many matters, but ordinary Israelis, unlike so many of their brethren in the Diaspora, were not assimilating into any alien ethnicity or nationality.

  Israelis would always remain Jews – even if only ignorant Jews knowing little about Judaism. Hebrew was their everyday language of communication. Jewish holidays were the bank holidays. Jewish symbols were the symbols of state. Moreover, the secular Zionist merging of Judaism with modernity appeared to be stable for the long run. It was not threatened by modernity even in its most extreme forms.

  But confidence in secular Zionism’s ability to overcome the traditional threats to Jews – anti-Semitism, assimilationism, self-hatred – came crashing down to earth starting in the 1990s.

  While Jewish assimilation in the Diaspora has often been termed “self-hatred,” the expression is misleading. Diaspora assimilationists are usually people who are simply indifferent to their Jewishness. They may not care to have anything to do with Judaism, but they generally do not actively wish Jews harm (though there are some exceptions).

  With the Oslo era, however, came the emergence of actual anti-Jewish bigotry among Israel’s intellectual, media and political elites, with Israeli universities becoming petri dishes for Jewish anti-Zionists and anti-Semites.

  The Oslo era was accompanied by a massive assault on Israeli pride and self-confidence by the country’s own leaders. Israeli intellectuals lectured the country about its sinfulness and insensitivity, claiming Israeli awfulness was behind the Arab refusal to make peace. Israeli campuses were flooded with “new historians” and “post-Zionists,” pseudo-academics rewriting history texts and school curricula to promote the Arab version of history.

  Even worse, there has emerged in Israel a movement of Jewish anti-Semitism, as self-contradictory as that term might seem. Many Israeli leftists today are openly anti-Israel and not a few exhibit manifestations of outright anti-Semitism. And the left, thanks to its almost total hegemony over the country’s chattering classes, exercises disproportionate control over Israeli national policy.

  Far left post-survivalist ideas, particularly the desire to seek peace through appeasement, capitulation and self-debasement, have not only taken control of the Labor Party, they dominate the thinking of the supposedly centrist Kadima and Likud parties as well.

  The Israeli anti-Zionist left increasingly collaborates with enemies of Israel and open anti-Semites. Many leading leftists hold cushy tenured positions at Israel’s taxpayer-financed institutions of higher learning. Israel in recent years has produced hundreds of anti-Israel academic radicals, including people who justify and celebrate Arab terrorism, who lead the international campaigns to boycott and divest from Israel, and who endorse the demonization of their own country.

  These are the people who attempt to get Israeli military officers indicted as “war criminals” before courts outside Israel. Some of these academic extremists openly call for an end to Israel as a sovereign state, usually under the guise of the “one-state solution” under which Israel would in effect be enfolded inside a larger state with an Arab/Muslim government and majority. (Such a solution should in fact be referred to as the “Rwanda solution” to Jewish existence in the Middle East.)

  Many Israeli academics have cheered the launching of missiles at civilians in Sderot and other Negev towns, and some publicly endorsed Hizbullah’s “resistance” as northern Israel was bathed in Katyusha rockets in 2006.

  Several Israeli academics even campaign on behalf of and promote Holocaust deniers. A Holocaust denial website has granted awards to dozens of Israeli leftist academics for their work against their own country, nominating them for an ironically named Righteous Jew award.

  Making matters worse, the assault by Israel’s elites against national pride, indeed against national existence, has been accompanied by a set of diplomatic policies that express little more than self-loathing.

  For thirty years or so after Israel’s creation, few would have challenged the idea that secular Zionism was an unqualified success in begetting a new type of Jew. Israeli Jews were at last normal citizens in a country all their own, patriotic to the point of being insufferable, proud to the point of hubris, confident in themselves and in their military, sure of their moral justifiability.

  And then, seemingly within a few years, these same Israelis were reduced to begging the likes of a Mahmoud Abbas to allow his terrorist squad leaders to meet with Israeli army officers in order to maintain the illusion that a “peace process” was still operational.

  Israeli politicians long ago abandoned any pretense of conditioning further concessions to the terrorists on an abstention from violence.

  The national policy of stripping Israeliness of Jewishness has produced self-abasement and defeatism. The nation that defeated the Arab hordes in 1948-9, the Suez Campaign, the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War has morphed into a collection of whining defeatists who allow rockets to fall on Israeli cities day in and day out without so much as a token response, and who buy back the corpses of murdered soldiers by releasing a baby-killing monster.

  Steven Plaut, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor at Haifa University. His book “The Scout” is available at He can be contacted at