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On the same evening of the mass rally in Beirut that brought down the government, a huge traffic jam was created on the road to Jerusalem by burning tires scattered at the Motza junction by right-wing extremists.

As the scent of democratization begins to waft through this region in the wake of the pressure and preaching of President Bush, "the only democracy in the Middle East" should be asking itself a question, in light of what the little eye spies at home: Is this what you call democracy?

Democracy is not a license for anarchy. It is not a permit to take violent action against the implementation of decisions reached by the institutions of the state. Certainly, it is not a license to threaten the life of the elected leader in the name of some messianic prophecy or direct order from God.

The prime minister puts his policy into practice on the basis of his ability to muster the necessary majority for approval by the cabinet and the Knesset. It doesn't matter what his campaign slogans or election promises were or were not. When de Gaulle was elected, he didn't promise to give up Algeria and evacuate the families of settlers who had been living there for 132 years. Nixon didn't promise to break the taboo of recognizing the People's Republic of China and establish diplomatic relations with it, abandoning Taiwan to its fate. Begin didn't promise to surrender all of Sinai in exchange for peace with Egypt. Shamir didn't promise to attend the international summit in Madrid that marked the breakthrough leading to dialogue with the Palestinians. Rabin never dropped the slightest hint about the Oslo Accord.

Sharon was possibly the only one who has ever meant what he said. "Peace with painful concessions" was more than a hint of what would happen over time. Only when the Feiglins, the rebels, the leaders of the far right, the settlers and certain Likud bigwigs realized that he meant what he said, did they put out a political contract on his head.

The threat to democracy is now coming from all directions. The messianists, who have no problem crossing red lines, say they will stop the government from making good on its plans by violence and creating bedlam. The Likud Central Committee, MKs and ministers included, wants Sharon out. Last night the Likud voted in favor of a referendum. Even if the bill doesn't get through the Knesset, it has transformed Sharon from a prime minister who enjoys the overwhelming confidence of the Israeli majority into a leader who has lost half his party. He has become a general without soldiers.

The ministers' hair stood on end as they listened to the Shin Bet and police reporting on the rabbinical rulings that permit shooting Druze and Bedouin soldiers, make it okay to scuffle with the army and police, and encourage soldiers to refuse orders.

Last but not least was a ruling applying the "law of the informer" to Sharon himself. Out of dozens of quoted statements read aloud by the Shin Bet chief and the police commissioner, the most chilling was surely this one: "Yigal Amir lives, Rabin is dead, Sharon will die." Don't Sharon's ministers understand that those who deny the legitimacy of a democratically elected leader are imposing a death sentence on him with their own hands?

An Israeli minister of the interior, tough as nails, spoke about the need "to crush the organizations of the far right, activate emergency laws and lock them up in administrative detention." It wasn't Ophir Pines in 2005. It was Ehud Barak in 1995, the day after Rabin's assassination.

Had things been done that way, writes Danny Bloch, editor of the defunct newspaper, Davar, Yigal Amir would have been sitting in a detention cell in the summer of 1995, Rabin would have lived, Carmi Gillon would have retired honorably from the Shin Bet, Yigal Amir would have married Margalit Har Shefi or Larissa Trimbobler, and Geula Amir would be a grandma today. But what can you do? No one understood, and they still don't today, that even democracy needs claws to defend itself.

The government's powerlessness to implement Knesset resolutions because of a violent minority prepared to cross every red line constitutes the ultimate threat to democracy. Now is the time for the government to take off its gloves, before the crazies do us all in.