Eli Cohen, who lost his bid to unseat Beit Shemesh’s haredi mayor Moshe Abutbul
on Tuesday, may take legal action due to allegations of voter fraud, sources
within his campaign have told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
to Abutbul by fewer than a thousand votes in an election that some have
described as less a political conflict than a religious war.
A line of
hundreds of cars filled with Cohen supporters stretching for blocks wound its
way around Beit Shemesh on Thursday evening, on its way to a rally in front of
the municipality. When it passed through the Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef
neighborhood, haredim try to stop traffic, and hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews
lined the road, held back by the police.
As the haredim chanted “Moshe
Abutbul” and played his campaign song over loudspeakers, one Cohen supporter
announced over speakers bolted to his car roof that Beit Shemesh would “not be
haredi” and that if the ultra- Orthodox wanted an exclusively religious area,
they should go to Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim neighborhood.
will be multicultural” he declared.
Likewise in Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, a
more hardline haredi neighborhood, haredim lined the streets throwing ballots at
vehicles, knocking on car windows, blocking traffic and holding up political
Hundreds of unsupervised haredi children wandered through the
streets as their parents held impromptu counter-protests against the
Outside the municipality, thousands of residents demonstrated
against what they saw as electoral fraud, according to protest organizer Miri
Shalem. She told the Post that they had taken to the streets in response to
Wednesday’s arrests and confiscations of state-issued identification
Police estimated the crowd at 1,000, although it appeared to be
somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 people.
“We are not giving up on Beit
Shemesh,” the protesters chanted after Cohen, who stood on a stage across the
street from the municipality with secular politicians from across the political
spectrum, before breaking into the national anthem.
“There was no
religious war,” Cohen told reporters during an impromptu press conference at a
coffee shop near the protest. “There were only politicians who were using religion for their
own ends. That, I cannot forgive.”
Police raided two apartments in Beit
Shemesh during the municipal elections on Tuesday, arresting eight ultra-
Orthodox people and confiscating more than 200 identification cards.
Cohen campaign said that 30 people will be called in for questioning in
connection with possible fraud on Friday.
The Post was unable to
corroborate the claim.
Cohen told the Post that to his sorrow, “we know
about more than 850 ballots they declared invalid,” and “many people came and
were told they had already voted.
“We have a legal team checking this,”
he said, noting that he would act according to whatever evidence he manages to
gather, either ceasing his efforts or pursuing legal action.
abounded in Beit Shemesh on Thursday that Cohen had already petitioned the
courts to have the election’s results thrown out, but a source close to the
candidate denied this.
The source did say, however, that such action was
being considered by residents, but he did not want to discuss it, as “they are
still collecting information” regarding suspicious incidents.
source close to Cohen created an email account to receive complaints from voters
regarding suspicious incidents. The source said she had received reports of
people saying that they were turned away at the polls after being told that they
had already voted.
“We’ve been getting all sorts of stories,” the source
said, declining to provide more information before a decision was made on how to
“I support all efforts to investigate election fraud through the
courts in order to make sure that the democratic outcome of the election is
accurate,” MK Dov Lipman, a local resident and political opponent of the mayor,
told the Post.
The elections were “a vote of confidence for me,” Abutbul
said, calling on his opponents to respect the “rules of
Lipman’s comments came after many national-religious
residents turned to Facebook and blogs to vent their displeasure with the
David Morris, founder of Lema’an Achai, a local
charitable organization, typified the anger when he wrote that “Beit Shemesh
should also be required to rerun the election, this time under close supervision
by the national government and law enforcement forces.”
More than 4,000
residents signed a petition on Wednesday for the publication of election results
to be delayed until the police investigated the election for additional
Another petition, calling for Beit Shemesh to be divided into a
haredi city composed of Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef, Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet and the
soon to be completed Ramat Beit Shemesh Gimmel, and a secular/national-religious
old Beit Shemesh, garnered more than 1,600 signatures.
Gideon Sa’ar said he was considering the idea, which his predecessor Eli Yishai
rejected as economically unfeasible.
Abutbul addressed calls for a split
in the city by noting that he had enjoyed significant support in old Beit
Shemesh and that Cohen had gathered significant support in Ramat Beit Shemesh,
showing that the “city is actually multifaceted” and cannot be divided so
The mayor panned the idea of “land swaps” or a “Berlin wall” in
Abutbul said that he intended on bringing all parties,
including Cohen’s, into his coalition.
“Beit Shemesh is going on a new
path,” Abutbul said, explaining that he intended to “connect the representatives
of all sectors” in order to “put the election behind us.”