Beit Shemesh mayor candiate Eli Cohen celebrates.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Several hundred supporters of Beit Shemesh mayoral hopeful Eli Cohen gathered
outside of the city’s municipality on Thursday evening to celebrate the court
decision nullifying the recent electoral victory of haredi incumbent Moshe
Abutbul. Cohen had gone to court alleging that supporters of the mayor rigged
Police raided two apartments in the city on election day,
uncovering a stash of state identification cards they believe were “going to be
used in the election” in a fraudulent manner, a spokesman said. Attorney-
General Yehuda Weinstein pushed hard for Thursday’s decision, which he said was
necessary due to “systematic, deliberate, organized and institutionalized
criminal activity” on the part of supporters of the mayor.
quickly descended into a religious conflict pitting the so-called Zionist bloc,
a coalition of national-religious, traditional and secular residents, against
the city’s growing ultra-Orthodox population.
Cohen, who was called
onstage as Beit Shemesh’s next mayor, called on members of the haredi community
who support a diverse and peaceful city to come out and join his
“There are many more of them than there are extremists,” he
subsequently told The Jerusalem Post.
Cohen said Abutbul had called his
Jewish identity into question and that he intended to sanctify God’s name, a veiled jab at Abutbul’s
campaign literature, which asserted that the traditional but non-Orthodox
opposition candidate had desecrated the name of God.
“We will teach [our
opponents] how to honor each other and love each other,” Cohen told the
Calling on people to get out the vote, the mayoral hopeful said
that “this is not the personal struggle of Eli Cohen or of members of the city
council; this is a communal struggle for democracy and justice and the rule of
law. The struggle for Beit Shemesh has just begun,” Cohen
“We will not allow Moshe Abutbul to create a religious war in Beit
Shemesh,” he continued, elaborating that the city in which “people spit on
girls” can be a moral beacon and an example of coexistence between the
ultra-Orthodox and the rest of society.
The last-minute victory rally
garnered a sparse crowd of fewer than 300 Cohen supporters, a far cry from the
thousands who came out to protest following the election, and while the tone of
the speakers mostly reflected an effort to reach out to the haredi community,
not everybody agreed with that message.
City Councilman and Labor Party
local head Richard Peres took a less conciliatory tone, telling the crowd that
the ultra-Orthodox have split Beit Shemesh into two cities, the multicultural
old Beit Shemesh and the fervently Orthodox Ramat Beit Shemesh. While the two
sides should live in harmony, there has to be an acknowledgment of the split, he
“The court today taught the haredim that the commandment ‘Do not
steal’ that is engraved on the Tablets is still in force,” Peres told the
Yehuda Moses, the son of ultra-Orthodox MK Menahem Eliezer Moses
(United Torah Judaism), came out to support Cohen. He said that while he has no
problem with Abutbul winning the election, the ultra-Orthodox “have to win in a
way that honors democracy.”
MK Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid), a local resident
and vocal critic of the mayor, echoed Moses’s sentiments.
wins, and if Moshe Abutbul wins in pure elections, then he is the mayor and we
will respect that,” he told the Post
“I am so ecstatically happy that
the courts ruled in favor” of new elections, American immigrant Reuven Ashenberg
However, there is an undercurrent of anger against both candidates,
and one resident said he did not intend to support either Abutbul or
“I’m not voting for either,” he said.