The unprecedented decision handed down by the Jerusalem District Court on
Thursday, calling for new municipal elections in Beit Shemesh, generated
Haredi politicians expressed ferocious denunciations saying
the decision trampled upon democracy, whereas non haredi lawmakers praised the
decision as upholding that very same democracy.
Eli Cohen, the
independent mayoral candidate who lost the election to Shas representative and
incumbent mayor Moshe Abutbul, claimed that justice and democracy had won. “We
now have to leave the past behind us and work together for the sake of the
city,” he said.
But haredi politicians were swift to denounce the
decision, labeling it undemocratic, claiming that the court had been influenced
by a concerted media campaign.
Abutbul said he had faith in the justice
system but he did not accept the ruling and that, following advice from legal
experts, he would present a request to the Supreme Court to appeal the
“If, God forbid, new elections are held in the city, the
decision of the majority in Beit Shemesh will be preserved,” Abutbul
Shas chairman Arye Deri said he was “saddened that the honorable
court chose to follow the media campaign and nullified democracy in Beit
Shemesh,” and was the first to announce that Shas would appeal the
Prior to announcing the appeal, Deri said he was sure Abutbul
would win new elections “by an even greater margin,” than the original elections
– in which he won by 956 votes.
The court’s decision calling for new
elections is a landmark ruling that has little precedent in the history of the
Prominent attorney Aviad Hacohen told The Jerusalem Post that
there have been isolated incidents in which courts have called for ballots to be
re-run for select polling stations within a municipal jurisdiction in both local
and national elections.
He said however that he was unaware of any
previous ruling calling for new elections for an entire city or municipal
As well as criticizing the decision, several haredi politicians
called for unity among the haredi parties in Beit Shemesh.
Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni said that the different haredi parties in the city
should form a joint working group to bring haredi and non-haredi Beit Shemesh
residents out to vote for Abutbul, who he described as “an excellent mayor,”
adding that he nevertheless supported an appeal against the “unjust decision” of
Within the city, Shmuel Greenberg, haredi member of the Beit
Shemesh Municipal Council for Degel Hatorah, claimed that public pressure and
“media incitement” had influenced the court that “did not examine the sparse and
meager evidence in a proper fashion.”
“The day on which democratic
elections are invalidated on the basis of rumor and paltry evidence is a day of
mourning for democracy and the state of Israel,” Greenberg added.
pointed to the narrow margin of victory in recent mayoral elections in Nazareth,
where voter fraud was also discovered but where new elections were not
He claimed that “when there is the scent of haredim, the courts
act accordingly and not in our favor.”
Aharon Salomon, the leader of the
moderate haredi party Tov, which lost its municipal council seat in the
elections, said briefly on Facebook that “after two months and four days a true
smile crossed my face. We have new elections.”
United Torah Judaism MK
Yisrael Eichler said the decision proved there was a “legal dictatorship” in
Israel, akin to the current regime in Egypt.
“The day will come when the
secular regime will place the haredim outside of the law, as was done in Egypt,
all in the name of democracy,” said Eichler in reference to an Egyptian court
decision in September that banned the Muslim Brotherhood.
community needs to prepare for life under a despotic regime and to struggle with
the tools that are still in their hands to protect their religious freedoms,”
the MK continued.
“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s regime and the
supreme court in Egypt also find democratic explanations that are perfect for
eliminating their opponents and to trample human rights in the name of
“enlightenment,” he added.
Meanwhile, Labor party chairman and leader of
the opposition MK Yitzhak Herzog welcomed the decision, calling it “a great
victory for democracy.”
“The citizens of Beit Shemesh can now elect a
mayor without alien influences,” he said.
Yesh Atid MK and Beit Shemesh
resident Rabbi Dov Lipman also praised the decision, saying that the fight for
the identity and future of the city was “a microcosm” for the
“The winner of these new elections will be accepted as mayor by
the city’s citizens regardless of religious identity, with the peace of mind
that this was done democratically and not through fraud,” said
Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz congratulated Beit Shemesh and Israel
on the decision and spoke out in harsh terms against haredi political behavior
in the city.
“I have time and again visited Beit Shemesh to battle
against ugly politicking, injustice, religious coercion, the humiliation of
women, political tricks and everything else,” Horowitz said.
Shemesh is a city in the State of Israel and we are not giving up on it. The
sanctity of elections is a principle foundation. Without it, we can turn out the
lights and throw the key into the sea,” the MK opined.