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In the coalition negotiations after the Yom Kippur War, the demands made of prime minister Golda Meir became more and more extravagant. At one point, Golda made clear there was a limit to the humiliation she was ready to accept, recalling that her mother once told her that when the Lord wishes to punish someone He takes away his sense of shame.

In forming the new government, the politicians have made clear there is no limit to the humiliation; they have been stripped of all sense of shame. True, this is not Israel's first bloated government, but this time all lines have been crossed and all limits of good taste have been breached. The way the government was put together, the total disregard of reasonable criteria in appointing ministers and their number, the cynical and absurd way ministries were split even though the ministries should never have been established, the long line of Likud members begging for portfolios, and the maddening waste of taxpayers' funds - all this can be summed up by what the prophet said of the concubine in Gibeah: "No such deed has been done or seen from the day that the Children of Israel came up from the land of Egypt." It's hard to overstate the public's sense of disgust, anger, insult and rejection given this embarrassing spectacle.

A government with 30 ministers, six of them ministers without portfolio, two vice premiers and four deputy prime ministers, in addition to no less than eight deputy ministers - there was never such a thing in Israel and our forefathers did not foresee it. In advanced countries a formula determines the number of ministers. David Ben-Gurion insisted on a formula of one minister for every six Knesset members, and Menachem Begin instituted one minister for four MKs. Netanyahu started with a formula of one minister for three MKs - an exaggerated ratio - though ultimately he did not adhere to it, allowing one minister or deputy minister for every two MKs.

The defect is not in the system of government, and this is not the "price of unity." The party that broke every taboo and trampled on all the norms is Likud. A faction of 27 MKs has received 15 ministries and two deputy ministries! If we add to the list the Knesset speaker, the coalition chairman and the heads of the Knesset committees, nearly every Likud MK has been given a job. Routine parliamentary work in service of the voters apparently is beneath them. Netanyahu's sense that he has to satisfy the unfettered, egotistical needs and exaggerated self-satisfaction of Likud members lies at the root of the grotesque spectacle we witnessed last week.

The main story here is not the waste in public funds, though this too must not be swept under the rug. Indeed, with the tens of millions spent on superfluous ministers and deputy ministers, it could have been possible to save dozens of cancer patients, preserve hundreds of jobs and build many classrooms. Yet the most serious blow is not budgetary but ethical and moral, particularly the message the government sends to the people of "grab whatever you can" and "every bastard is a king." The real damage is to the nation's strength, given that our politicians show contempt for the public that elected them; the sense of disgust and despair they generate makes no impression on them.

The religious Zionist leader Haim-Moshe Shapira, of blessed memory, would remark that the people get the leadership they deserve. One may wonder if this leadership is really what the people of Israel deserve.