Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul accused the national and local media of waging
a war on his administration for the past five years during a speech to
supporters following his reelection Tuesday evening.
Abutbul beat Bayit
Yehudi candidate Eli Cohen in a tight race, with the incumbent garnering 51.8
percent of the vote over 46.6% cast for his challenger. Meir Balayish, the third
candidate, received just over 1.6% of the votes.
The moderate haredi Tov
party, which held one seat on the city council during the mayor’s previous term,
failed to garner any mandates during Tuesday’s balloting.
was an intensely competitive campaign in which religious issues and identity
took on a central role in defining the sides, Abutbul stated that the elections
had not only taken place over the last several months, but that they had been a
“brutal battle” that started at the beginning of his first term when the press
tried to “blacken” his name and make him into a “threat” to the non-haredi
residents of Beit Shemesh.
“Today we see that all of the delegitimization
did not stand the test,” the mayor said, stating that he always acted out of
concern for peace, love and unity.
“I think that the media needs to
search their souls” and the time for a “cease-fire” has come, he said. “The
residents of the city noted clearly that they had enough of outside
interference. Let us live in harmony.”
Over the past few years, Beit
Shemesh has come to be regarded as something of a bellwether for the rest of the
country, with regular clashes between ultra-Orthodox extremists and
national-religious and secular Jews coming to define the city’s image in the
Incidents involving attacks on schoolgirls deemed to be
dressed immodestly, signs calling for gender-segregated sidewalks and a
statement by the mayor’s spokesman that Beit Shemesh would eventually become a
haredi city larger than Bnei Brak all contributed to the sectarian
While residents got along for the most part, tensions were high
during the recent election campaign. Supporters of the mayor expressed fears
that challenger Eli Cohen would bring public transportation to ultra-Orthodox
neighborhoods on Shabbat, a claim that Cohen denied, and secular voters
expressed dismay over campaign advertisements claiming that “evildoers” seeking
to “uproot the Torah” were intent on taking over the city.
expressed his intention to bring all parties, including Beit Shemesh
Chozeret-Bayit Yehudi, which tied with the haredi Chen party with three council
mandates each, into his coalition, and he said he intended to bring peace to the
In response to the mayor’s speech, MK Dov Lipman, a local resident
and political opponent of the mayor, told The Jerusalem Post that he preferred
“not to look backwards, but to go forward.” He added, however, that he believed
Abutbul had turned the race into a “religious war.”
Despite that, he said
that the mayor “now has the opportunity to show that his words are true by:
building neighborhoods for the general population; building a cultural center,
ball fields, pools and other places of recreation; cracking down completely on
the extremist elements; and reaching out to offer Eli Cohen and his supporters a
partnering role in running the city.”
In an open letter to residents,
Lipman said that he had “already reached out to the mayor with the hope that we
can work together to make progress for Beit Shemesh.
“On a deeper level,
we need to do our part to minimize the tension between populations in the city,”
Lipman said. “It is my hope that the mayor will reach out to Eli Cohen and other
supporters of his to join his coalition and work together. This example will set
the mood for the general population, which is in need of healing.”
response to his loss, Cohen reminded his supporters that they still held seats
on the municipal council and encouraged them not to give up hope for a better
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