Beit Shemesh mayor faces possible libel lawsuit

Head of the Committee to Save Beit Shemesh takes issue with how Moshe Abutbol described him in recent interview.

MOSHE ABUTBOL 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Rabbi Dov Lipman, who has been campaigning against ultra-Orthodox extremism in Beit Shemesh, has threatened to sue Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbol for libel following his recent interview in the weekly magazine Ami on January 4.
Lipman, who heads the Committee to Save Beit Shemesh, has taken particular issue with how Abutbol described him as having “fought against every building that went up to house haredim, night and day.” Abutbol also said in the interview that he “condemn[s] Dov Lipman and his cohorts who have been a thorn in the side of Bet Shemesh for years.”
Additionally, Abutbol accused Lipman and other activists of “using the incident of the girl, Na’ama Margolese, who was spit on, to further their goals,” and having “poisoned the atmosphere” in Beit Shemesh.
In response, the Mayor’s spokesman called the claim “baseless” and said Abutbol’s statements did not constitute libel.
“Dov Lipman is a known political activist who writes the harshest words in newspapers every week, including far more severe words against the mayor,” he said. “He should get his own affairs in order before trying to silence others.”
“Lipman acts innocent, but has apparently hired a public relations agency that works against the mayor on a series of issues,” he continued.
“Additionally, the petition was first received by the press but still has not been received by the Municipality. This behavior reflects Lipman’s methods and use of the media.”
The city of 80,000 people has been the focus of religious tensions of late.
Members of the national-religious and more modern haredi communities have stepped up a campaign protesting the actions of extremist ultra-Orthodox residents, and what activists describe as attempts by the ultra-Orthodox to “take over” Beit Shemesh.
Lipman’s lawyers sent a letter to the mayor on Monday, stating that legal proceedings will be initiated against Abutbol unless he retracts his statements from the Ami interview and pays NIS 127,000 in damages to Lipman.
The letter stated it is “well known” there is no truth to the claim that Lipman has continually fought against every haredi-designated construction project, and that he has in fact supported construction for the ultra-Orthodox sector. Lipman’s opposition, the letter continues, stems from the designation of “entire neighborhoods” for haredim.
Lipman told The Jerusalem Post: “It is painful to know that family and friends had to sit and read fabrications about me.”
“In every television and newspaper interview I have done, in every newspaper column I have written, and in every speech I have delivered at demonstrations in front of thousands of people, I have emphasized that we are [in favor of] growth of the haredi community and our only issue is making Beit Shemesh into a haredi city at the expense of the other populations.
“I am proud of my activism and, especially my efforts to create unity [between all groups], from moderate haredim to the secular. None of this will distract from the issue at hand and my years of work fighting against extremism, violence and religious coercion, and [creating a] flourishing Beit Shemesh for all its populations – including haredim.”