Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul’s (Shas) campaign lied about receiving endorsements by senior rabbis associated with Tekuma, a faction of Bayit Yehudi, party spokesmen asserted on Monday.
“More support for Mayor Moshe Abutbul: Rabbanim of Tekuma in a public call to vote for the observant candidate,” read a flyer posted on the Facebook group “Anglos for Abutbul” on Sunday.
The flyers, which bore the mayor’s name and logo at the bottom, indicated that rabbis Dov Lior, Haim Steiner, Isser Klonsky and David Hai Cohen had “instructed the MKs of the Tekuma movement to support the election of God-fearing individuals who will safeguard religious issues and the sanctity of the Torah in Israel.”
Following protests by challenger Eli Cohen, who is backed by Bayit Yehudi, Abutbul spokesman Hanoch Bressler stated that the decision of the Tekuma rabbis was a “general resolution [that applied] everywhere in the country,” telling voters that they must “choose the religious” candidate over a secular rival.
“We received express permission to bring this directive to the attention of Beit Shemesh residents from Rabbi Yossi Dermer, secretary of the ‘Rabbanei Tekuma’ Committee...including instructions as to the format and method in which the directive should be publicized,” Abutbul’s campaign said, adding that Eli Cohen’s protests are an attempt to “silence the voice of pure Halacha.”
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post
by telephone on Monday, Dermer asserted that he had not granted permission, and that any claim to the contrary was a “lie.”
“The Tekuma rabbis did not endorse Mr. Moshe Abutbul, and it is better that he should focus on working in Beit Shemesh instead of making up support that does not exist,” Bayit Yehudi spokesman Pinchas Wolf told the Post
When asked about Dermer’s statement, Bressler expressed his belief that the Post was trying to bring him “into a confrontation” with the Tekuma rabbi.
Bressler provided the Post
with a partial screenshot of an email from Dermer that he said was sent to the Abutbul campaign, and which he said showed that Dermer had assented to allow his campaign to promote the rabbis as Abutbul supporters.
The email, a full copy of which has been provided to this newspaper by Dermer, contained a picture of a street poster stating that the Tekuma rabbis supported Jerusalem mayoral hopeful Moshe Lion. While the poster did endorse supporting the “religious” candidate, it did not make any mention of the Beit Shemesh race nor was there any written indication of Tekuma support for Abutbul.
After further questioning, Bressler accused the Cohen campaign of exerting “pressure” on the rabbis to retract their support.
Dermer indicated that when he received the email, he believed its address to be that of a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) journalist.
“It would not surprise me if this was completely made up,” MK Dov Lipman, a Beit Shemesh resident, told the Post. “The mayor’s campaign has been filled with untruths – the most glaring, that Eli Cohen would bring public buses on Shabbat to Bet Shemesh. It is very sad to see a campaign pushing the more religious side via the most unreligious of actions – lying.”
Lipman also criticized Chen, a local haredi party which currently holds several important portfolios in the city council, for allegedly lying to Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the nonagenarian leader of the non-hassidic “Lithuanian” ultra-Orthodox community, in order to convince him to appear at a recent Beit Shemesh election rally in support of the mayor.
In a clip posted to YouTube, city councilman Shmuel Greenberg and several other men were videotaped telling the elderly Yeshiva dean that Cohen was a representative of Yair Lapid, a politician anathema to haredim.
“The truth is that Eli Cohen has zero connection to Yair Lapid,” Lipman said.
The city of Beit Shemesh has become increasingly polarized between haredim on the one hand and national religious and secular/ traditional Jews on the other.
Secular residents, upset with a mayor who they say has been favoring the city’s increasing haredi population, have turned to Cohen to take “return Beit Shemesh to it’s residents” and away from the ultra- Orthodox wheeler-dealers that they claim have been running things in the city.
Ultra-Orthodox residents have accused Cohen, a non-Orthodox but traditional Sephardi Jew, of seeking to undermine the religious nature of the city, run buses on Shabbat and favor the secular and national-religious sectors of the city. Haredi residents worry that Cohen, whose independent Beit Shemesh Hozeret party merged its list with Bayit Yehudi, will “uproot the Torah” and further Yesh Atid’s alleged war against the haredim.
The race is very tight, with support roughly evenly split between Cohen and Abutbul. Third-party challenger Meir Balayish of the Dor Aher party is projected to receive, according to a poll recently publicized by the Cohen campaign, less than five percent of the vote.
The wild card in the elections will be the moderate haredi Tov party and its supporters, whose votes Cohen’s campaign has been trying to secure. There seems to be significant support for Cohen among the ultra-Orthodox, but because many are fearful to admit their support publicly, this support is hard to quantify.
Likewise, Abutbul, who recently received endorsements from two prominent national-religious rabbis, aside from those of Tekuma, is reported to retain a significant support base among non-Orthodox voters in Old Beit Shemesh.
The Kol Shahar party, an Anglo list for city council comprised of ultra-Orthodox, national-religious and secular candidates, has stated that it expects one mandate; however, given the party’s low-key campaign, it is unclear how much support they enjoy.
Local Chabad hassidim have also put forward a candidate for city council, claiming that none of the other parties, secular or religious, has met their community’s needs.
Both ultra-Orthodox and secular Israelis are closely watching the Beit Shemesh election, which is serving as a bellwether, both in the growing national political battle between secular and haredi and in the internal battle between moderate and traditional ultra- Orthodox Jews.