Beit Shemesh politicians present plan to divide city in half

Cooperation between haredim and non-haredim ‘hasn’t happened,’ says former mayoral candidate Eli Cohen.

MK DOV LIPMAN (right) hands the ‘Separate in Peace, Live in Peace’ booklet to Finance Minister Yair Lapid yesterday. (photo credit: Courtesy)
MK DOV LIPMAN (right) hands the ‘Separate in Peace, Live in Peace’ booklet to Finance Minister Yair Lapid yesterday.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Eight members of the city council in Beit Shemesh have drawn up preliminary proposals to divide the community between its haredi and non-haredi neighborhoods and create two municipal authorities.
Beit Shemesh resident and Yesh Atid MK Rabbi Dov Lipman presented the proposals to Finance Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday.
Beit Shemesh has been a center of intercommunal fighting between haredi and non-haredi residents in recent years as the two communities have clashed over the allocation of municipal resources, the expansion of the city, and a general cultural confrontation.
Local elections in the city in October 2013, won by incumbent mayor Moshe Abutbul of Shas, were found by the courts to have been unduly perverted by haredi activists. Repeat elections were held in March in which Abutbul prevailed by a narrow margin.
According to eight of the nine members of the opposition within the Beit Shemesh municipal council who now advocate splitting the city, Abutbul and his administration has refused to bring them into the coalition.
Shortly after the vote, Eli Cohen, who lost the mayoral election to Abutbul, along with leaders of the other non-haredi parties, presented a document setting out the basis on which they would agree to join Abutbul’s coalition.
The document stipulated that plans for the expansion of the city be revised to ensure construction for the non-haredi sector, requested that neighborhood administrations be established and given their own budgets, and that the administration for the Old Beit Shemesh district be entrusted to a non-haredi representative.
In addition, they requested a cultural center, sports center and library whose construction has suffered from extensive delays be completed along with other municipal amenities but did not make any demands for administrative portfolios, the party leaders emphasized.
Cohen and other non-haredi leaders argue that their requests have been ignored and Abutbul has not worked to include them in running the city.
“We wanted to build a model for cooperation in this city, but it hasn’t happened,” Cohen told The Jerusalem Post.
We weren’t the ones to build a separation wall in a school, it was the municipal administration, and it was the municipal administration which refused to include the opposition in the running of the city.
“We have set principles for cooperation, but they have been rejected. There is no option now but to divide the city, because there is a complete chasm in the perspective of how to run the city. The haredim are building a haredi city without care for the city’s diverse and multi-cultural nature.”
Lipman, who came to public prominence campaigning against the haredi municipal administration, said basic services have not been provided to the city’s non-haredi community for years, and mentioned the failure to build the cultural center, library, soccer field or city swimming pool, as well as the designation of “tens of thousands of housing units” for the haredi population.
“As a resident of the city and one of the leaders in the battle against religious extremism in the city, I have come to the sad conclusion that the only way to save the city is to think out of the box,” he said. “Given the direction which the city leadership has chosen, coexistence is not a possibility, and separate municipalities is the only way to insure that the city survives and that all residents have all of their needs met.”
A request for comment from Abutbul’s spokesman was not received by press time.