Incumbent reaches out to Anglo community in Beit Shemesh mayoral race

Mayor Moshe Abutbul announces plans to create an Anglo department; attack ad claims candidate Eli Cohen pushing for buses on Shabbat.

September 30, 2013 23:30

MOSHE ABUTBUL 370. (photo credit: Chaim Gamliel)

Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul has been seeking to burnish his credentials with the English-speaking community by improving Anglo access to the city administration.

During a recent meeting with several members of the Anglo community, Abutbul announced that he plans to create an Anglo Department within the Beit Shemesh Municipal Council to help facilitate relations between the English-speaking community and the different municipal departments.

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The Anglo Department is to be staffed by two people, one full-time and one part-time, who are to be members of the English-speaking community from the city.

The mayor announced that Dr. Efraim Rosenbaum, originally from Boston, Massachusetts, is to serve as his Special Advisor for Anglo Affairs.

The series of initiatives that the mayor signed was termed the Anglo Accessibility and Amenities Agreement.

Rosenbaum told The Jerusalem Post that the purpose of the agreement was to provide a direct avenue for Anglos, who he said may be less aware of the different municipal services on offer, to the municipal administration and its various branches.

He said that the fruits of this agreement could already be seen, with Abutbul agreeing on Monday to provide funds for the Benjamin Library in the city, containing mostly English-language books, to remain open until at least till the end of the year.

Rosenbaum, who describes himself as ultra-Orthodox, said he believed that significant numbers of Beit Shemesh’s English-speaking residents would vote for Abutbul in the elections, and that the community was almost evenly split in its support for the mayor, or rival candidate Eli Cohen.

Abutbul’s image has been badly tarnished by haredi extremism in the city, but Rosenbaum, a specialist in Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine and a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef, said he believed the Anglo community would be able to see that the number of violent incidents carried out by radical ultra-Orthodox groups was decreasing and that the police responded quickly and effectively to such events.

In addition to his Anglo outreach activities, Abutbul has been shoring up haredi support by visiting the major rabbinical leaders of the haredi world.

On Sunday, the Beit Shemesh mayor paid a visit to the home of Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the leading rabbi of the Ashkenazi non-hassidic haredi world, to get formal endorsement for his campaign.

Abutbul received a blessing from Shteinman who also wished him luck for the elections. The rabbi has previously said that it would be a desecration of God’s name if a secular candidate is elected mayor.

According to a press statement from Abutbul’s campaign staff, Shteinman said on Sunday that everything possible must be done to ensure Beit Shemesh’s future as a place where “Torah and acts of kindness are fostered.”

Abutbul visited Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, another senior haredi figure, who was updated on the mayor’s efforts to increase the construction of residential housing in the city, “despite efforts of the previous municipal council to halt construction.”

In addition, Abutbul went to see Rabbi Haim Kanievsky, another of the leading haredi rabbinical figures in the country, who was informed that his rival “does not observe Shabbat and the commandments,” and plans to address the needs of non-religious people in Beit Shemesh seeking leisure activities on Shabbat.

Kanievsky reportedly said of mayoral candidate Eli Cohen, “There is nothing to fear from him, he will inherit a great defeat.”

Zvi Wolicki, Cohen’s campaign manager said that Kanievsky had been misinformed by Abutbul’s associates and that Cohen has merely said he will cooperate with the neighboring Mateh Yehuda Regional Council where various leisure activities are available on Shabbat and festivals.

He insisted that Cohen’s policy is to oppose publicly funded leisure activities on Shabbat.

In another related development, Beit Shemesh residents have received flyers through their doors in recent days, alleging that Cohen has promised to provide public transport solutions for secular Beit Shemesh residents on Shabbat and holidays.

“Make no mistake about it: Eli Cohen’s mission is a secular Beit Shemesh,” reads the flyer, published by the “Citizens for Beit Shemesh with Jewish Core Values,” a hitherto unknown group.

Wolicki said categorically that Cohen will not permit public transport to run on Shabbat in Beit Shemesh, and that this claim along with those regarding leisure activities were “scare mongering and a low form of electioneering.”

He added that he believed the flyers came, directly or indirectly, from Abutbul’s campaign.

Abutbul’s election staff said that the flyer was not connected to the campaign of Mayor Moshe Abutbul and was a “local initiative” of US immigrants.

"Behind this initiative stand new immigrants from the US who do not view favorably the two-faced [nature] of Eli Cohen and his coterie, who talk to one part of the city against haredi expansion, while speaking to the haredi community of their sympathy for the ultra-Orthodox population [of the city],” a spokesman said. “Therefore, those behind the initiative wanted to give residents the true picture in order that they are aware of the facts, and if someone, God forbid, was offended, he has to check [Cohen’s] plans.”

Rosenbaum denounced the flyers, calling it “disgusting campaigning that goes against Torah,” adding however that he believed that similar tactics were used by the mayor’s opposition.

Wolicki also dismissed Abutbul’s outreach to the Anglo community as “almost pathetic,” and said that the motivation of the drive was “transparent.”

“If there was such a need for an Anglo department then the initiative should have been started years ago, not three weeks before the election,” he said.

Yesh Atid MK and local resident Rabbi Dov Lipman weighed in, saying that he believed even haredi Anglos would not vote for Abutbul this time around.

“Last election, many haredi Anglos voted for Abutbul. In fact, many became activists for his campaign. They now realize the mistake – that the city is not clean, basic services have been neglected and that he gave control to the extremist elements,” said Lipman. “The potential exists that thousands of haredi Anglos will vote for Eli Cohen who they know will run the city well, will be a unifying figure, and will help haredim too.”

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