Moshe Abutbul narrowly defeats Eli Cohen in repeat of Beit Shemesh mayoral election

Incumbent reelected by margin of 758 votes • Cohen: ‘Beit Shemesh is our home and we have to protect it’

Moshe Abutbol wins election again (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Moshe Abutbol wins election again
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Incumbent mayor of Beit Shemesh Moshe Abutbul secured reelection, defeating his opponent Eli Cohen by some 758 votes.

In the final tally late on Tuesday night, Abutbul took 19,401 votes against Cohen’s 18,643, giving him 51 percent of ballots cast compared to 49% for his rival, with citywide voter turnout standing at an impressive 76%.The haredi (ultra-Orthodox) mayor won elections in October that the courts overturned after discovering systemic voter fraud. The revote took place without any such duplicity.The results, announced in the early hours of Wednesday morning, capped a day of high drama in Beit Shemesh on which tens of thousands of residents took to polling stations in order to have their say in determining the future of the city.The fierce arguments over the management of Beit Shemesh and the allocation of resources led to a bitter campaign in the original elections, and the cancellation of the results of the original poll magnified those divisions to an even greater extent during the campaign for the repeat election.Haredi MK Moshe Gafni described the municipal elections last week as “a war of religion,” and numerous rabbis, including the most senior leaders of the haredi world, instructed members of the community to vote in order to “sanctify God’s name.”In the other camp, Cohen and his campaign defined the election as a battle against extremists in the city, including Abutbul, whom they said ignored the needs of the non-haredi community and badly mismanaged the city’s resources to the detriment of all the residents.Tensions were high throughout the election day and large numbers of police and Border Police officers were stationed at the polling stations to prevent a repeat of the fraud witnessed in the previous election and to maintain public order.Following his victory, Abutbul said that “the incitement didn’t work, and the love that I conveyed won and will always win.”Speaking to his supporters, he said that “it is now proven that there had been no system of electoral fraud in the original, canceled, elections,” and sarcastically thanked the judges of the High Court of Justice.He also thanked God and the leading haredi rabbis for their support, but said that he would be attentive to all Beit Shemesh residents, and invited Cohen to join his municipal coalition.Supporters of Abutbul took to the streets to dance and rejoice following the victory.Meanwhile, Cohen called Abutbul to concede the election, and said he accepted the will of the electorate.Speaking to his supporters later on, Cohen repeated that he accepted the defeat.“We always said that whoever believes is not afraid, and we are obligated to continue along our path,” he said. “Beit Shemesh is our home, is everyone’s home, and we have to do everything to protect it as our home.”Tuesday’s vote saw an increase in voter turnout from 69.5% in the original election in October last year to 76.8% this time round.Abutbul managed to add 2,057 votes to his tally from the original ballot while Cohen raised his total by an even greater amount, with an extra 2,255 people voting for him.This increase for Cohen was not enough, however, to overhaul Abutbul’s margin of victory in the original election of 956 votes. The gap in Tuesday’s election was a slightly smaller 758 votes.One of the possible electoral sources for Abutbul’s extra votes was the radical, anti-Zionist factions in the city who usually refuse to vote in any elections due to their ideological opposition to the State of Israel. Although the rabbinic leaders of the anti-Zionist community spoke out against voting, there were reports of members of those groups voting throughout the day.The haredi media also reported late on Tuesday that the leadership of the Toldos Ahron and Dushinsky hassidic groups had permitted women to vote in the election.