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How amazing. Terror, recession, unemployment and twisted economic priorities - none of it has managed to pry Likud voters out of their political homes and make them slide into the other bloc, headed by the Labor Party. It briefly appeared that the corruption scandals would shake the foundations, but political logic works differently in Israel. Apparently, the Likud - which absurdly raises two flags of a ruling party headed by someone who grew up in Mapai and enjoys power and all the best the country has to offer yet heads a body that rails against the elite - will recover some of its power.

That contradiction should have shaken up the left and made it clear to it, again, that the political fault line runs through hidden areas it has yet to identify. But that didn't happen. On the contrary, in contravention of any sociological logic, the left continues to rely on the academic and economic elite, while the right counts on what has become known in recent years as "the People." Even when the left is weak and lacks all influence, it is still tagged with the faded brand of historical Mapai. Now, after a small group of pensioners and kibbutzniks elected a tribal leader to their liking, Labor is finding it even more difficult to crack the conundrum.

Pathetically shrunken, Labor has created a vacuum in which many homeless now roam: traditional or not outrageously secular, moderate peaceniks and compromising hawks, members of the middle class who work hard and are afraid of economic collapse. Some of that vacuum has been occupied by the Likud, which at least before its internal elections looked like a variation on the theme of "Israel's ruling party" (formerly Mapai). But then along came two parties that only know how play on one theme of hatred and fear, and swept up the remainders.

The two parties are each other's raison d'etre. One is the mirror image of the other. Shas was on the verge of collapse. Part of its inflated number of Knesset seats was supposed to go back to the Likud, and even to Labor. Shinui, and its promise of a secular unity government revived Shas, sending its voters back home. Shinui might even add a vote to United Torah Judaism. Yosef Lapid, a virtual leader who flourished on TV, will be responsible for bringing Yisrael Eichler, his automatic opponent from the "Popolitika" current affairs talk show, into the Knesset.

Lapid and Shas' rabbis have squashed all the differences in outlook and deed, let alone any serious debate about the concepts of society, identity and culture, into a superficial TV gruel that consists entirely of brutal and foolish verbal clashes. Lapid promises he'll put an end to the Haredi extortion, but does not explain how he'll deny children education budgets or force Haredi youth to enlist in the army. He mocks Meretz, which understood that it's impossible to ignore hundreds of thousands of Shas voters and humiliate them, so joined with Shas in a government and the Histadrut. Unlike Meretz, he opposes - with demagogic evasiveness - separation of synagogue and state. Shas's rabbis slander secular youth as all drugged, and promise their education will solve the problem. They don't explain how coercive, one-dimensional Torah studies will guarantee the children of the poor a future in a world of galloping technology and a shrinking economy.

Rabbi Shalom Cohen curses Lapid, praying he be turned into a lump of coal. Lapid answers with the rhetorical transparency of "the Nazis also tried to destroy me." Cohen et al promise their voters an interpretation of Judaism saturated with lowbrow proselytizing. Lapid offers his voters fear and hatred, tainted with embarrassing ignorance, toward anything that does not fit in with their culturally bourgeois menu, that narrow, anachronism he calls "Western modernity." Moreover, a secular coalition might leave the Haredim in the opposition, brewing more rage and combativeness, but the Haredi community will not go away. Lapid's snake-oil fantasy that the country will be less Haredi without budgets is an illusion and ridiculous.

But on one issue the two parties nonetheless join hands in partnership: in hatred for Israel's Arab citizens. Shas prides itself on a seat and a half worth of Bedouin and Arab voters, but it gets them only thanks to its control over the Interior Ministry, while its rabbis incite against Arabs in particular and non-Jews in general. Shinui prides itself on its liberalism, but Arabs don't even exist in its platform. In an October 1987 interview with the late, lamented Erev Shabbat, the Haredi weekly, Lapid said "I am not ashamed to say that I don't particularly like Arabs - by the way, not only Arabs. I have no particular fondness for the goyim, in general - on the other hand, what happens to every Jewish child touches my soul."

Shas and Shinui could therefore strike an surplus votes deal, as suggested by author Amos Oz, in which any votes that don't add up to another seat in the House go to the other party. They'd be known as the surplus hatred for all those who are the "other." Today it's Arabs, tomorrow foreigners and non-Jews, and the day after tomorrow, leftists who support them. Thus a large political bloc - the extreme right would surely join that coalition with glee - undermines the Declaration of Independence and every universal value of equality and tolerance.