Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbol has called for a moratorium on “negative tactics” in the city’s mayoral race, following accusations that political activists associated with both his campaign and that of challenger Eli Cohen engaged in political violence.
“I call upon all involved parties to put negative tactics aside, and return the municipal election campaigns to the realm of sensibility and in its proper proportions,” the mayor said, in a statement emailed to journalists and posted on the Facebook page Anglos for Abutbol.
Abutbol also called on parents and educators to teach local children about the value of “unity and solidarity,” and stated that “municipal elections are not important enough to sacrifice our values of tolerance, openmindedness and Ahavat Yisrael [love of the Jewish people] on the altar of politics.”
There has been “an overall atmosphere of peace and coexistence” throughout much of the campaign, he added, emphasizing that he would like to see the last week before election day characterized by “mutual respect and goodwill.”
Hanoch Bressler, a spokesman for the mayor’s reelection campaign, told The Jerusalem Post
on Sunday he hoped that challenger Cohen would “adopt this approach” and said that Abutbol hoped to calm the situation in the city, in which bitter partisan rivalries have alienated many members of the ultra-Orthodox and secular populations from one another.
Citing campaign posters that had been ripped down and an alleged Thursday evening attack on an Abutbol volunteer by what the incumbent’s campaign had termed a Cohen activist, Bressler said it was high time steps are taken to calm the situation in Beit Shemesh.
Despite condemning the increasing incivility of the campaign, Bressler declined to discuss allegations that one of their campaign workers had thrown rocks at opposition city council candidate Avrohom Leventhal last week, stating that Leventhal had fabricated the incident to “grab headlines.”
In response to Abutbol’s call for calm, the Cohen campaign accused Abutbol of “incitement and lies,” not only against political opponents but against the “many haredim who choose to vote for Cohen.”
While Abutbol “sends spokesmen and campaign managers to slander, lie and incite,” a party spokesman told the Post, “we are confident that the smear campaign will stop in a few days and all groups and all sectors will live in peace” under a new administration.
Activists associated with Cohen have complained that Abutbol’s election advertisements are demonizing the non-haredi community.
Among the advertisements that have sparked the ire of national-religious and secular residents are several that ran this past week in local paper Chadash.
In one of the advertisements, haredi children are pictured behind barbed wire, which reminded some locals of the concentration camp outfits worn by the children of some hardline haredim in Jerusalem during protests against the draft.
In another advertisement, leading haredi rabbinic figures are pictured next to quotes about the election. Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, a leading ultra- Orthodox figure, is quoted by the advertisement as saying that “evildoers are struggling for Beit Shemesh” and are seeking to “uproot the Torah.”
While acknowledging that the image of children behind barbed wire was “harsh,” Bressler said that given the government decision to “crush” the haredim, it is important to express the anxiety of the ultra-Orthodox community, especially given that Cohen is the representative of Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi.
Cohen is not formally affiliated with Yesh Atid, although he has been endorsed by party leader Yair Lapid, party activists told the Post in response to Bressler’s statement.
Asked about the quote from Shteinman regarding “evildoers,” Bressler replied that the mayor had not said such a thing, and that the advertisement was merely quoting the rabbi. As he was “dust” beneath the rabbi’s feet, he did not have the standing to question his words.
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