As Beit Shemesh nears Tuesday’s municipal elections, the ratcheting-up of
tensions have brought a corresponding decrease in civility by voters who have
allowed their sectarian affiliations to desensitize them to the humanity of
their political opponents.
On Friday, I was walking in the main shopping
center of the Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef neighborhood, wading through the sea of
discarded propaganda posters and flyers littering the ground, when a group of
haredi (ultra-Orthodox) children began running after me and calling out for my
“Who are you voting for?” one of the children
“[Mayor] Moshe Abutbul?” I started to explain that I felt it
was inappropriate for a child to interrogate his elders on their electoral
preferences, whereupon the boy yelled that I must be “voting for [challenger]
Eli Cohen” and spat.
In recent weeks, a candidate for city council from
the moderate haredi Tov party claimed that Abutbul campaign workers had
assaulted him, and a spokesman for the mayor accused him of fabricating the
incident. Following that were accusations by the Abutbul camp that someone from
the Cohen campaign had attacked two people hanging their campaign signs, pelting
them with ceramic tiles and rocks.
If true, these reports highlight a
growing sense of alienation between the two sides that has allowed people to
believe that physical attacks are justified; if false, they indicate that
accusations of misdemeanors are now considered acceptable parts of the political
Advertisements in local newspapers and signs hung around the
city by supporters of the mayor have declared their political rivals “wicked”
men who seek to “uproot the Torah,” and that voting for the incumbent is a
religious duty. On the other hand, one resident recently complained of the
horrible things that “have been said to me up here when I say I am not voting
One woman called me to say that she had chased children out
of her yard multiple times during attempts to vandalize her campaign banners,
and that upon calling the father of one of the children to complain, she had
been taunted with the response, “so what are you going to do about it?” Another
resident bemoaned that he had not had the chance to chase vandals out of his
yard, and that his signs had been repeatedly torn down.
evening, a young man of my acquaintance told me that he was told he was “not
Jewish,” and neither was his preferred candidate.
In a widely spread open
letter, a local rabbi told city residents that if they did not vote for the
mayor they were “useful idiots” who lacked gratitude and
One of my neighbors complained that during a parade of cars
supporting Eli Cohen that was driving through Ramat Beit Shemesh, “kids were
pounding on cars, screaming goy, Nazi, etc.”
On the other hand, one
resident of a largely national religious community has stated that among “kids
on the street... anti-haredi sentiment in my neck of the woods is getting
Many residents on both sides of the political fence and from all
the various religious factions in the city have stated that they are sick of the
elections and just wish they were over. While both sides have called for calm,
it seems in short supply.