Bayit Yehudi replaced its Beit Shemesh mayoral candidate, Aliza Bloch, with Eli
Cohen, an independent, on Thursday afternoon, giving the secular hopeful the top
slot on the religious- Zionist party’s list.
Bloch and Cohen were
considered the leading contenders in the effort to topple Shas incumbent Rabbi
Moshe Abutbol in the October 22 vote.
Cohen is the deputy director of
Mekorot, the national water company, and a former official at the Jewish
In an effort not to split the anti-Shas vote, Cohen and Bloch
previously signed an agreement that whichever of them lost a survey conducted
this week by pollsters at Mina Tzemach–Dahaf would step aside in favor of the
However, the decision about Bloch came prior to the results of
the poll, which are expected to be released either Friday or Sunday, Cohen told
The Jerusalem Post.
Cohen and Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett had
been in talks for several days ahead of Thursday’s
According to their agreement, Cohen will join Bayit Yehudi
to “unite the Zionist camp in Beit Shemesh.”
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The Cohen campaign believes
that Abutbol was elected due to a split in the Zionist bloc in the previous
municipal election in 2008.
Bennett welcomed the new party slate, saying
that it would serve as “a powerful force” to return the city to “Zionist hands,
moderation and sanity.”
Calling on all Zionist parties to “join the
fight” – which he called “symbolic for the State of Israel” – he warned that the
upcoming election was “the last opportunity” to take back the city.
Atid and Bayit Yehudi had combined their efforts, announcing Bloch as a unity
candidate endorsed by both parties as well as by the Likud and
Yesh Atid’s position has changed in the interim, with party CEO
Gil Segal saying on Thursday that Beit Shemesh under a Cohen administration
could become a city in which secular and religious can coexist.
accused her party of courting Cohen “behind my back” said that she had refused
an offer to run as Cohen’s deputy “because politics has its limits and cannot
The results of the poll are now rendered meaningless, she
asserted, saying that she will continue to fight for the future of Beit Shemesh
and will be considering her next move over the coming days.
weight that the various parties had initially thrown behind Bloch – the
principal of a local school – is indicative of just how much Beit Shemesh has
become an emblem of the fault lines between secular and ultra-
Violence by extremist “Yerushalmi” sect members against those
they deem to be dressed in an immodest fashion; well-publicized incidents of
women being made to sit at the back of buses; signs calling for women not to
walk in front of synagogues; and the presence of the burka-clad ultra-Orthodox
“Taliban women” have all contributed to a bad public image that residents feel
has impacted them.
The local branch of Bayit Yehudi had split over the
upcoming election, with several of the party’s Beit Shemesh leaders backing
During a recent interview with the Post, Cohen called Bloch a
“spoiler” for announcing her candidacy months after he began
“Beit Shemesh is not anti-religious. It is very
traditional and respects the religious. Beit Shemesh is very Zionist,” the
secular Cohen said at the time. The city “can be a paradise of meeting together,
but [Abutbol] put [the debate in terms of] them or us. I can say he is a nice
guy. I appreciate him as a person, but I think he is making a lot of mistakes
and is not giving us the results we need,” Cohen said.
MK Dov Lipman, a
lawmaker from Yesh Atid who lives in Beit Shemesh, said his party “applaud[s]
Eli Cohen and Bayit Yehudi for taking this important step toward unity and is
proud to be part of the joint list which will return Beit Shemesh to all its
citizens and enable the city to reach its remarkable potential.”
within the Cohen campaign have said that he is in talks with the moderate haredi
Tov party and it is unclear whether his new affiliation with Bayit Yehudi will
affect such ties.
Meanwhile in Jerusalem, Bayit Yehudi and Tekuma decided
to run on a joint list headed by Dov Kalmanovich, an accountant who was the
first victim wounded in the first intifada back in 1987. The list will also
include Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett’s ally Herzl Yehezkel, a woman,
and a young candidate.
Bennett reached an agreement on the list with
Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel, at the expense of former Bayit
Yehudi MK Zevulun Orlev. The heads of the party’s Jerusalem branch were trying
to draft Orlev to run, but he had not made a decision about whether to accept
To block Orlev, Bennett bypassed the Jerusalem branch and
decided on Kalmanovich without them.
The heads of the branch intend to
sue to the party.
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