In a stunning upset, religious-Zionist mayoral-candidate for Beit Shemesh Aliza Bloch has won the race to city hall and narrowly beat her haredi rival and incumbent Moshe Abutbul by more than 500 votes to become the city’s first woman mayor.
The result constitutes a veritable revolution in the city whose population of 115,000 has become mostly haredi in recent years, and where strong inter-communal disputes have arisen due to mismanagement by the mayor and his administration and the actions of extremist haredi elements in the city.
Beit Shemesh has been run for the past decade by Abutbul and a predominantly haredi municipal council, during which time many non-haredi residents, and according to the election results, significant numbers of haredim grew increasingly dissatisfied and hostile to the mayor’s administration, which has faced allegations of corruption and mismanagement of the city’s affairs.
When the votes were counted after the election on Tuesday, Abutbul had a razor-thin lead of 250 votes, but just more than 1,000 soldiers’ votes and some 300 ballots of disabled people, which are counted later, remained unopened.
Early Thursday, after significant delays, those votes were finally counted, with 965 going to Bloch and 432 going to Abutbul, leaving Bloch with a winning majority of 533, 1.3% of the 42,000 votes cast.
At 3 a.m., Bloch went to the town square and delivered a victory speech to dozens of loyal supporters. They had stayed up during the vote count, which went on for several hours, due to objections from Abutbul and his lawyers.
They greeted her with singing, dancing, hugs and chants of “upheaval!” Bloch, who was also congratulated by top haredi rabbis, started her victory speech by reciting the sheheheyanu blessing marking auspicious occasions.
“The people of Israel look today to Beit Shemesh with new hope,” she beamed. “Beit Shemesh decided to cancel its walls. Beit Shemesh decided to tear down its dividers.”
Bloch used the word for the barrier that separates men and women in a synagogue.
“What won this journey is that we all put our differences aside and focused on what is truly important,” she said. “From today, Beit Shemesh will be a model for the nation.”
Bloch is a veteran educator and school principal. She was backed by Likud, Bayit Yehudi, Labor and Kulanu. Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett congratulated her, five years after he refused to endorse her.
“I have been embraced by the haredi community,” Bloch told The Jerusalem Post. “I have backing not only from English speakers and modern haredim, but also from Hassidim, Lithuanian and Sephardi haredim, who just want the city to be run better.”
In a subsequent interview with the Post, Bloch outlined her lengthy platform for helping the city’s sizable population of Anglos.
Abutbul, who was mayor for 10 years, refused repeated requests for an interview with the Post.