Moshe Abutbul beats out Eli Cohen in Beit Shemesh mayoral election

Yesh Atid MK Dov Lipman accuses incumbent Mayor Moshe Abutbul for turning the elections into a “religious war.”

Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbol (photo credit: Atara Beck)
Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbol
(photo credit: Atara Beck)
Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul accused the national and local media of waging a war on his administration for the past five years during a speech to supporters following his reelection Tuesday evening.
Abutbul beat Bayit Yehudi candidate Eli Cohen in a tight race, with the incumbent garnering 51.8 percent of the vote over 46.6% cast for his challenger. Meir Balayish, the third candidate, received just over 1.6% of the votes.
The moderate haredi Tov party, which held one seat on the city council during the mayor’s previous term, failed to garner any mandates during Tuesday’s balloting.
Following what was an intensely competitive campaign in which religious issues and identity took on a central role in defining the sides, Abutbul stated that the elections had not only taken place over the last several months, but that they had been a “brutal battle” that started at the beginning of his first term when the press tried to “blacken” his name and make him into a “threat” to the non-haredi residents of Beit Shemesh.
“Today we see that all of the delegitimization did not stand the test,” the mayor said, stating that he always acted out of concern for peace, love and unity.
“I think that the media needs to search their souls” and the time for a “cease-fire” has come, he said. “The residents of the city noted clearly that they had enough of outside interference. Let us live in harmony.”
Over the past few years, Beit Shemesh has come to be regarded as something of a bellwether for the rest of the country, with regular clashes between ultra-Orthodox extremists and national-religious and secular Jews coming to define the city’s image in the popular press.
Incidents involving attacks on schoolgirls deemed to be dressed immodestly, signs calling for gender-segregated sidewalks and a statement by the mayor’s spokesman that Beit Shemesh would eventually become a haredi city larger than Bnei Brak all contributed to the sectarian tensions.
While residents got along for the most part, tensions were high during the recent election campaign. Supporters of the mayor expressed fears that challenger Eli Cohen would bring public transportation to ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods on Shabbat, a claim that Cohen denied, and secular voters expressed dismay over campaign advertisements claiming that “evildoers” seeking to “uproot the Torah” were intent on taking over the city.
The mayor expressed his intention to bring all parties, including Beit Shemesh Chozeret-Bayit Yehudi, which tied with the haredi Chen party with three council mandates each, into his coalition, and he said he intended to bring peace to the city.
In response to the mayor’s speech, MK Dov Lipman, a local resident and political opponent of the mayor, told The Jerusalem Post that he preferred “not to look backwards, but to go forward.” He added, however, that he believed Abutbul had turned the race into a “religious war.”
Despite that, he said that the mayor “now has the opportunity to show that his words are true by: building neighborhoods for the general population; building a cultural center, ball fields, pools and other places of recreation; cracking down completely on the extremist elements; and reaching out to offer Eli Cohen and his supporters a partnering role in running the city.”
In an open letter to residents, Lipman said that he had “already reached out to the mayor with the hope that we can work together to make progress for Beit Shemesh.
“On a deeper level, we need to do our part to minimize the tension between populations in the city,” Lipman said. “It is my hope that the mayor will reach out to Eli Cohen and other supporters of his to join his coalition and work together. This example will set the mood for the general population, which is in need of healing.”
In response to his loss, Cohen reminded his supporters that they still held seats on the municipal council and encouraged them not to give up hope for a better Beit Shemesh.