All anonymous electioneering posters in Beit Shemesh must be removed because of multiple infractions of the laws pertaining to such campaign material, Central Election Committee chairman and Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran ruled on Thursday.
Yesh Atid MK Dov Lipman and his party brought the claims before the committee after haredi activists posted signs around the city showing an image of Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid.
“This man is relying on your apathy. Gather together and defend your lives,” the poster read, urging the haredi community to vote for haredi candidate and incumbent Mayor Moshe Abutbul of Shas.
The Beit Shemesh Municipality’s legal adviser did not heed the requests to take down the posters, leading to Yesh Atid’s appeal to the committee.
Repeat municipal elections are scheduled for Beit Shemesh this coming Tuesday, following rulings by the Jerusalem District Court and the Supreme Court that widespread fraud in the October 2013 elections rendered the results invalid.
Joubran ruled on Thursday that the posters with Lapid’s image, as well as all other anonymous political posters, must be taken down.
Similar signs in favor of Abutbul have appeared in Beit Shemesh in recent weeks, often employing an inflammatory reference to the biblical Book of Esther and implying that haredi lives are at risk if non-haredi candidate Eli Cohen of the independent Beit Shemesh is Returning party wins the election.
“This is not simply unknown voters breaking election law, but the mayor himself not following election law, and I strongly condemn him for this,” said Lipman.
“Aside from the outright falsehood implied in connecting Finance Minister Yair Lapid to the Beit Shemesh elections, it continues to demonstrate haredi leaders stirring up hatred and implying to their voters that secular Israel wants to make them less religious. Our God is a God of truth, and our Torah is a Torah of truth – realities which they choose to ignore,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Cohen campaign has reported that it is in close contact with representatives from the Sephardi haredi community in the city as part of efforts to increase Cohen’s share of the vote.
A leading Shas rabbi in the city, Rabbi David Benizri, spoke out against Abutbul in the weeks following the last election, saying that the mayor had not fulfilled promises to Shas and Sephardi functionaries for posts in the municipal administration.
Benizri went as far as to say that Shas would not enter Abutbul’s municipal coalition until he reallocated municipal portfolios.
Officials in Cohen’s campaign told The Jerusalem Post that the Sephardi haredi community representatives with whom they were in touch saw Cohen as someone “who could represent their interests.”
While the likelihood that the community will not vote for Abutbul is low, Cohen told the Post that it was “no secret that this community is disappointed with Abutbul and has been let down by him.”
Both sides are scrambling to increase voter turnout within their supporter base.
Abutbul told the Post earlier this week that his campaign had been going to door-todoor to drum up voter motivation and has been holding a series of workshops and events to boost the campaign.
Voter turnout will likely be decisive in the election. There are some 50,000 eligible voters in Beit Shemesh, of which approximately 58 percent are non-haredi and 42% are haredi.
In the October municipal election, total voter turnout was 67%, although the turnout in the haredi community was 72%, compared to 64% in the non-haredi sector.
Without taking the matter of fraudulent votes into account, Abutbul took approximately 51.5% of the vote, compared to 48.5% for Cohen.
Because of the lower non-haredi turnout, the Cohen campaign has been hard at work to motivate voters and has engaged in a campaign to identify those who did not vote last time so as to increase Cohen’s share of the vote.