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It took the Americans some time, but in the end they realized that Ehud Barak is fooling them. They could have asked us. The moment it became clear that the weakened Labor Party could serve as a springboard, he took the leap with his circle of sanctimonious followers and joined the government; and we knew that no force on heaven or earth would move him from his portfolio.

What the U.S. government has learned is important, but more significant is the catastrophe Barak has brought to Israel. The moment he relinquished any idea of creating a left-wing opposition and joined an extremist right-wing government, he provided no-fault protection to Avigdor Lieberman's incitement, Eli Yishai's racism, and Benjamin Netanyahu's and the inner cabinet's intransigent opposition to peacemaking.

Last week, he outdid himself. "A dangerous wave of racist incitement," he said (belatedly ) as a response to the rabbis' letter, as though he were a sociologist looking at the subject from a detached viewpoint. Yet the world view of Shmuel Eliyahu, Yitzhak Shapira (who is currently distributing in the IDF inciting flyers calling on soldiers to show no mercy to their enemies ), and others is nothing new. The new twist is the backing given to the incitement and extremism of such figures by the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Barak government.

What, exactly, distinguished the rabbis' letter and the government's utterances? The most conspicuous figures are Lieberman and Yishai, but Netanyahu, in an inciting speech against foreign refugees and workers, kept pace with these two; so, too, has Yaakov Neeman, who condones the way the Orthodox establishment is dragging citizens (particularly female ones ) to an unprecedented nadir, and is also making a huge effort to destroy the legal system. Other ministers are doing the same, each in his or her own sphere.

Barak cannot claim that he is unaware of this decline. He excused his joining the government by arguing that he would make it more moderate, but his enthusiastic collaboration only helps it intensify its destructive doings, which are creating a perhaps irreversible reality.

That a leader will arise here with the ability to change things is unlikely. The prospects of this happening dwindle as a result of the general ideological malaise, and the Knesset's moral decline. This reality has a well-known name, but the term engenders semantic discussions that skirt the substantive point. How can you make such a comparison - people shout the moment someone dares to depict happenings here as being fascistic; hatred of Arabs and immigrants derives from existential fear, and we are unlike the Germans, the Italians, the South Africans, the Iranians and the Greek junta.

So the comparison is unnecessary - reality suffices. Since the reality is hard to digest, circles that are considered liberal keep searching for pills to sweeten it. There is, for instance, the belief that Lieberman is the root of the evil, and that if he were to vanish, so too would the problem. That is an unfounded theory. Lieberman might be the first to accumulate power with the help of slogans that were once taboo, but he would not have succeeded in doing so were circumstances not ripe.

Right-wing governments have continually weakened Israel's social fabric and civil structure. The collapse of the public system, which was especially manifest during the Second Lebanon War and the Carmel fire but also finds expression every day in education, health and welfare (all spheres that are flourishing in the settlements and eroding within the Green Line ) has created a chaotic vacuum that is readily manipulated.

Meanwhile, politicians cultivate the impasse in peace talks, along with the undisturbed perpetuation of the occupation, and dangerous rumors of impending economic prosperity. Good times are to come! Look at how much natural gas there is in the sea! Who needs peace? Who cares about what the world thinks?

These developments, including the replacement of the last surviving vestiges of social solidarity by isolationist racism, may not be identical to other historical phenomena, but it is made of the "right stuff." Recently a fine translation of an article by American political scientist Lawrence Britt describing the 14 defining characteristics of fascist regimes surfaced on the Internet. Readers are invited to view Israel's reality in their light.

This is the process, and no single person leads it. Even were Lieberman to be sent to exile in Siberia, replacements would arise from all parties, and sound the same grating, ominous voice. Under such a reality, the imperative of finding an alternative is a matter of life or death. The keys to such an alternative are in Ehud Barak's hands; the problem is that Barak, an impostor who claimed to be Yitzhak Rabin's heir, has tricked everyone. In a well thought-out fashion he has helped the ugliest wave in the country's history turn into a tidal wave, and threaten its existence.