Campaigning for new elections in Beit Shemesh reaches climax

MKs and ministers from Labor, Bayit Yehudi and Yesh Atid throw their support behind Cohen.

RABBI AHARON FELDMAN speaks to a gathering of English-speaking haredi residents in Ramat Beit Shemesh on Saturday night. (photo credit: COURTESY CAMPAIGN FOR MOSHE ABUTBUL)
RABBI AHARON FELDMAN speaks to a gathering of English-speaking haredi residents in Ramat Beit Shemesh on Saturday night.
The campaigns for the Beit Shemesh mayoral and municipal reelections have entered the homestretch with both candidates working furiously to strengthen their voting bases and encourage voter turnout within their respective voting blocs.
On Saturday night, approximately 2,000 local activists from the national political parties gathered in Beit Shemesh for a rally at the Emerald Halls in the city in support of Eli Cohen, the mayoral candidate for the local Beit Shemesh is Returning party.
Representatives from Likud, Labor, Yisrael Beytenu, Bayit Yehudi, Yesh Atid and others all gathered as part of efforts to get out the vote within the non-haredi population.
Transportation Minister Israel Katz, opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog, Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel and Yesh Atid MK Dov Lipman were among those who came to support Cohen.
“We are the majority in Beit Shemesh, and the majority will determine who will be the next mayor, [and] if there will be a sanctification of God’s name or a desecration of God’s name,” Cohen said.
He claimed that the haredi political parties had generated hatred in the city and had tried to portray Cohen and the non-haredi bloc as haters of religion.
“We will stand by the Torah of the Jewish people and respect all communities; we will not forgive the fact that they have tried to wage a religious war,” he said.
Among the haredi camp, there are also feverish preparations for Tuesday’s poll to boost the turnout for incumbent Mayor Moshe Abutbul of Shas.
However, efforts to convince some of the most hard-line, anti-Zionist elements in the city to vote appear to be failing.
Efforts have been made by the haredi camp to get members of this community to vote, but it seems unlikely that their longheld ideological opposition to the Zionist state, and to taking part in its elections, will be changed for this election.
A rally by members and leaders of the hard-line factions is expected to be held Monday night in opposition to participation on the ballot.
On Saturday night, Rabbi Aharon Feldman, one of the most senior haredi rabbis from the US, spoke in Ramat Beit Shemesh to a gathering of several hundred English-speaking haredi residents, and said he had come specifically to help sanctify God’s name.
Feldman, the dean of the Ner Israel yeshiva in Baltimore and a member of the Council of Torah Sages in the US, said that a war to sanctify God’s name was taking place in the city, and that if the haredi community lost it would be “a great stain on every haredi Jew.”
“You must understand that this is not something parochial, but that the eyes of the entire world are looking at you,” Feldman said. “I don’t even want to think about what might happen if we fail in this campaign, because it will have great influence on each and every Jew.”
On Thursday night, one of the leaders of the haredi world, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, visited Beit Shemesh along with several leading haredi politicians to rally the community for Tuesday’s vote.
Speaking to a crowd of supporters in a local synagogue, the rabbi told them that they were able to sanctify God’s name by voting for Abutbul.
“You have a great and rare opportunity to sanctify the name of God throughout the world,” Shteinman said. “You must take advantage of this while everyone is watching,” he said.
Senior haredi MK Moshe Gafni painted the ballot in starker terms.
“This is not an election campaign, it is war,” he told the assembled haredi crowd.