Without even a flicker of shame, the cabinet made a decision yesterday that could not have been made in an enlightened country: A new wing of the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon will be built on a different site from the one planned due to suspicions that ancient tombs rest under the original location.

Because of these graves, construction has already been delayed by two years; now we must wait another year, and another NIS 135 million in taxpayers' money will be squandered. Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman's threat to resign if the site is not changed had the desired effect on the cabinet, which passed the decision by a narrow majority.

After a street in Tel Aviv had to be built on stilts and the construction of Route 6 and other major roads was delayed for fear of disturbing ancient resting places, Barzilai's new wing has been added to the list of sites where religion has triumphed over the state, faith over reason, and the parties of the ultra-Orthodox minority over the secular majority. Litzman explains his insistence using his religious beliefs, but it's absolutely impossible to tolerate the cabinet's submission to his pressure. The decision represents a new low point in groveling to the ultra-Orthodox community, which has once again forced its obscurantist beliefs on the majority in a country that puts on airs of being enlightened and secular.

There was no good reason for postponing the construction at Barzilai, which has in recent years been in the eye of the storm due to rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip and which provides medical services for hundreds of thousands of people. There was also no good reason for increasing the cost of the project.

Health Ministry experts headed by Director-General Dr. Eitan Hai-Am - who tendered his resignation yesterday because of the cabinet's decision - urged that the original plan be implemented, but the ministers gave in to the ultra-Orthodox. They thus wasted a great deal of money and precious time, and they must all bear the responsibility.

In its decision yesterday, the cabinet not only approved the relocation of the planned wing, it also endorsed once again the sad inference that behind a facade of enlightenment and openness, Israeli society displays the symptoms of fundamentalist religion that has no place in a Western democracy. The cabinet should reconsider the matter and rescind its decision.