Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul and challenger Eli Cohen’s styles in the Supreme Court may be as different as their worldviews.
At Thursday’s dramatic hearing that will help in deciding whether new elections will be held and determining the future of Beit Shemesh, Cohen was one of the first to arrive.
Abutbul came somewhat after the official start time and was the last to enter, with the hearing starting almost immediately after his arrival.
Cohen held a pad and meticulously followed the proceedings, sitting near his lawyer and passing him notes with suggestions.
Abutbul sat many rows back from his lawyer, having little contact and spending most of the time playing with his cellphone and chuckling with some of his supporters.
Cohen appeared tense but attentive. Abutbul looked alternately jovial and bored.
Then there was the sideshow of lawyers for the city council, who tried to separate their situation from the mayoral election so that their results could stand. No one seemed to want to let them talk much and take away from the Abutbul-vs-Cohen main event, but all five lawyers (representing five parties) managed to get in a word.
At one point, Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis asked rhetorically, “Is there anyone else?” then looked up desperately, hoping that no one would answer so he could end the hearing.
One highlight was the lawyer for the Koah Lehashpia party, which the lower court blamed for most of the massive fraud in the election, acting offended at the finger being pointed at his clients, noting “that the lower court had quite a lot to say” about Koah.
Another was when Grunis cut off the fifth lawyer (by this point, everyone had lost track of which party these lawyers represented) and asked him why he had not filed a written appeal as required by the rules. The lawyer protested that he had, but when Grunis asked him to produce proof as to when it was filed, he got busy looking through many binders, without ever responding.
But the moments that brought the house down were Grunis’s two uncharacteristically comical moments, with retorts to some of the lawyers’ more dramatic expressions.
At the point when Cohen’s lawyer was painting his darkest picture of the future of democracy in Israel if the election results were allowed to stand, Grunis jumped in and said, “Are you trying to scare us?” implying that the lawyer was speaking as though the threat were imminent in the courtroom itself.
Lastly, another one of the city council parties’ lawyers complained that his party and another haredi party that had split into two did not have enough funds to wage another hard-fought war over their overlapping potential constituents. Without missing a beat, Grunis interjected: “Maybe they’ll recombine.”
Grunis did not bridge the Abutbul- Cohen gap, but he did make both sides laugh, at least for some moments.