Independent candidate to lead Bayit Yehudi list in Beit Shemesh

Bennet calls upcoming elections “last opportunity” to return the city to “Zionist hands, moderation and sanity.”

Beit Shemesh mayor candidate Eli Cohen 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Beit Shemesh mayor candidate Eli Cohen 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Bayit Yehudi replaced its Beit Shemesh mayoral candidate, Aliza Bloch, with Eli Cohen, an independent, on Thursday afternoon, giving the secular hopeful the top slot on the religious- Zionist party’s list.
Bloch and Cohen were considered the leading contenders in the effort to topple Shas incumbent Rabbi Moshe Abutbol in the October 22 vote.
Cohen is the deputy director of Mekorot, the national water company, and a former official at the Jewish Agency.
In an effort not to split the anti-Shas vote, Cohen and Bloch previously signed an agreement that whichever of them lost a survey conducted this week by pollsters at Mina Tzemach–Dahaf would step aside in favor of the winner.
However, the decision about Bloch came prior to the results of the poll, which are expected to be released either Friday or Sunday, Cohen told The Jerusalem Post.
Cohen and Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett had been in talks for several days ahead of Thursday’s announcement.
According to their agreement, Cohen will join Bayit Yehudi to “unite the Zionist camp in Beit Shemesh.”
The Cohen campaign believes that Abutbol was elected due to a split in the Zionist bloc in the previous municipal election in 2008.
Bennett welcomed the new party slate, saying that it would serve as “a powerful force” to return the city to “Zionist hands, moderation and sanity.”
Calling on all Zionist parties to “join the fight” – which he called “symbolic for the State of Israel” – he warned that the upcoming election was “the last opportunity” to take back the city.
Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi had combined their efforts, announcing Bloch as a unity candidate endorsed by both parties as well as by the Likud and Hatnua.
Yesh Atid’s position has changed in the interim, with party CEO Gil Segal saying on Thursday that Beit Shemesh under a Cohen administration could become a city in which secular and religious can coexist.
Bloch accused her party of courting Cohen “behind my back” said that she had refused an offer to run as Cohen’s deputy “because politics has its limits and cannot zigzag.”
The results of the poll are now rendered meaningless, she asserted, saying that she will continue to fight for the future of Beit Shemesh and will be considering her next move over the coming days.
The political weight that the various parties had initially thrown behind Bloch – the principal of a local school – is indicative of just how much Beit Shemesh has become an emblem of the fault lines between secular and ultra- Orthodox.
Violence by extremist “Yerushalmi” sect members against those they deem to be dressed in an immodest fashion; well-publicized incidents of women being made to sit at the back of buses; signs calling for women not to walk in front of synagogues; and the presence of the burka-clad ultra-Orthodox “Taliban women” have all contributed to a bad public image that residents feel has impacted them.
The local branch of Bayit Yehudi had split over the upcoming election, with several of the party’s Beit Shemesh leaders backing Cohen.
During a recent interview with the Post, Cohen called Bloch a “spoiler” for announcing her candidacy months after he began campaigning.
“Beit Shemesh is not anti-religious. It is very traditional and respects the religious. Beit Shemesh is very Zionist,” the secular Cohen said at the time. The city “can be a paradise of meeting together, but [Abutbol] put [the debate in terms of] them or us. I can say he is a nice guy. I appreciate him as a person, but I think he is making a lot of mistakes and is not giving us the results we need,” Cohen said.
MK Dov Lipman, a lawmaker from Yesh Atid who lives in Beit Shemesh, said his party “applaud[s] Eli Cohen and Bayit Yehudi for taking this important step toward unity and is proud to be part of the joint list which will return Beit Shemesh to all its citizens and enable the city to reach its remarkable potential.”
Sources within the Cohen campaign have said that he is in talks with the moderate haredi Tov party and it is unclear whether his new affiliation with Bayit Yehudi will affect such ties.
Meanwhile in Jerusalem, Bayit Yehudi and Tekuma decided to run on a joint list headed by Dov Kalmanovich, an accountant who was the first victim wounded in the first intifada back in 1987. The list will also include Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett’s ally Herzl Yehezkel, a woman, and a young candidate.
Bennett reached an agreement on the list with Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel, at the expense of former Bayit Yehudi MK Zevulun Orlev. The heads of the party’s Jerusalem branch were trying to draft Orlev to run, but he had not made a decision about whether to accept the offer.
To block Orlev, Bennett bypassed the Jerusalem branch and decided on Kalmanovich without them.
The heads of the branch intend to sue to the party.