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The Israeli crisis is deeper than its seems. We're talking about a major-league mess which has been going on for years, eroding the basic principles of public and private behavior and bringing this light-unto-the-nations country very close to the style of a Third World state. Apart from a few years of relative economic and political relief, the national crisis has grown worse with every mismanaged government that has come to power. Things have gone downhill because of contempt for the law, in which our elected public officials now lead the way.

How can Sharon look us in the face - this cocky man, who demanded that an MK step down for remaining silent under questioning, when his two sons are doing the very same thing in one of the most serious criminal investigations ever conducted against the family of a prime minister?

The nature of such crises is that they are not limited to one sphere. Like locusts, they are multiplying all over the place. After years of rejecting a courageous agreement with the Palestinians, the economy is paying a stiff price, with the settlements attaining the status of a sub-state. This subjugation of our economy is, among other things, the reason why no budgets can be found for infrastructure, as in the relatively golden days of the Rabin administration, or for fundamental improvements in the job market. It's no coincidence that Yesha activist Israel Harel attacks the single mothers in his opinion pieces in Haaretz. He knows that investing in projects that create new jobs will come at the expense of wastefully pouring money into the settlements.

The U.S. administration, as it awaits the Palestinian and Israeli prime ministers, is demanding that Sharon stop building the costly but questionable separation fence, or at least change its route. This fence is a quickie operation of the kind that only Sharon knows how to pull off. No constructive national enterprise has been pursued with such vigor over the past decade.

Israeli educational achievement, for instance, has gone down the tubes since the 1960s and 70s, as the standardized international tests have shown. Over the past three decades, we have never had a prime minister (again, with the exception of Rabin) who has regarded education as a national goal or taken any high-priority personal interest in it. Thus we have an education minister as totally unsuited to the task as Limor Livnat prepared to put an end to one of our most worthy educational projects, promoting the advancement of outstanding students from the periphery.

In the same misguided manner, the Likud has shot down attempts to merge local authorities, many of which are dens of corruption, thereby insuring its supporters in the local councils an uninterrupted stream of largesse. Knesset members - no less than 50 of them - recently signed a petition against the evacuation of the tent city known as Bread Square social protest in Tel Aviv's Kikar Hamedina, after the district court clearly ruled otherwise. This populist spit in the face of the law, joined by the country's legislative authority, is one of the malignant symptoms of this national crisis.

When a corrupt U.S. vice president was caught in the act, he came up with the famous saying: "The bastards changed the rules, but they forgot to tell me." The Knesset changes the rules of honesty and proper administration - and runs off to tell the media.

The lack of shame is another basic component in the mess around us. The assumption, not unfounded, is that everything is forgotten from one day and its screaming headlines to the next. An illusion of stability is created by the virtually autocratic regime of King Arik. He, who is shamelessly backing his sons, thus has erected a smokescreen to conceal the ineptitude of his government.

Indeed, during the reign of the Likud, interrupted by Labor rule for only two brief periods over the past 26 years, tampering with political and economic morality has become so entrenched that this populist right-wing party has become the mother of all deterioration. The whole political system has practically gone to wrack and ruin.

At the same time, the elite and academe have become the butt of anti-intellectual mockery. Language has been corrupted to the point where it is almost an embarrassment to follow the grammatical rules - as Yaron London, one of the last of the language guardians, pointed out this week.

The geeks and weirdos who obey the rules have become the objects of ridicule. Our cities are faded and crumbling. With the exception of sanctified hilltops and tombs in the territories, the Israeli past also is being blotted out by ignorance and cynicism. What better illustration than the Israel Electric Corporation's intention to rub out the name of the company's founder, Pinhas Rutenberg, on one of its power stations, and replace it with the name of the late IEC union boss, Yoram Oberkovitch.