Israelis have recently been swept into a maelstrom of religious legislation and antidemocratic actions that are harmful to their liberty and way of life. The source of this dangerous upheaval is Shas, whose leaders' wanton conduct has exceeded all reasonable bounds.

Throughout its existence, Shas has never enjoyed such dizzying freedom of action. The party is using it to push a new chametz law that will prohibit the display of leavened products during Passover even in stores and restaurants in neighborhoods where the residents would normally eat chametz. Moreover, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, the Shas leader, insists that the necessary reforms in business licensing be made conditional on increased enforcement of the closing of businesses on the Sabbath. A business owner who does not close that day would not get a license.

Cabinet members from Shas are doing everything they can to scatter public funds to the wind while inconveniencing the same public whose taxes are financing their profligacy. Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi, who is responsible for 133 wasteful local religious councils, where redundant jobs for pals are rife, now wants even more. He is forcing a religious council on the residents of Shoham, who are perfectly happy with the religious services in their community. And there is no reason why religious services should not be supplied by the local government, in the same way as education, health and social services.

The people are paying the price of the competition between Shas' leaders, each of whom wants to show his constituents that he is doing more for them than his rivals. Therefore, not only is the Interior Ministry making life even more miserable than usual for conversion candidates and people needing visas and marriage registrations, but the Communications Ministry is busying itself with halakhic trivialities, and the Education Ministry has to handle the ceaseless demands of the deputy minister from Shas and is giving in to them. And the Religious Services Ministry, which has been reopened after it was shut a few years ago, is milking the public coffers.

Shas uses Israeli society for its own purposes and no one tries to stop it. But we should not focus our complaints on Yishai, or even the party's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is responsible for this destructive rampage, and it is incumbent upon him to stop it.

But this is unlikely to happen. Netanyahu owes his return to government to Shas, which prevented Kadima's Tzipi Livni from setting up a cabinet after Ehud Olmert's resignation as prime minister. The price for the political deal between Netanyahu and Yishai is now being paid by the public.