Were Beit Shemesh elections democratic?

In Beit Shemesh, incumbent mayor Moshe Abutbul won the election with 51.9 percent of the votes. Eli Cohen, the candidate chosen by most non-haredi voters, received 46.5%.

A haredi man stands on a hilltop in Beit Shemesh 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
A haredi man stands on a hilltop in Beit Shemesh 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Almost a month has passed since elections were held throughout the country for mayor and city council. In Beit Shemesh, incumbent mayor Moshe Abutbul won the election with 51.9 percent of the votes. Eli Cohen, the candidate chosen by most non-haredi voters, received 46.5%.
There was extensive media coverage surrounding the elections in Beit Shemesh, with the police investigating election fraud and post-election demonstrations held by Cohen’s supporters to “take back Beit Shemesh.”
This has even led Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar to float the more than 10-year-old idea of splitting Beit Shemesh and Ramat Beit Shemesh into two cities.
Cohen only lost by around 1,000 votes, which is surprising. In fact it’s quite extraordinary. (Many articles have been written specifically regarding the Beit Shemesh elections so I won’t go into detail about the elections themselves. I will use Beit Shemesh merely as an example for a much larger issue.) To understand why these results are so remarkable we must first understand the population of Beit Shemesh. Around 40%-45% of the residents of Beit Shemesh are part of the haredi community, while the rest of the population is comprised of Russian, Ethiopian and English-speaking immigrants as well as residents of old Beit Shemesh.
The majority of the haredi community, along with a large number of residents from old Beit Shemesh who generally vote for Shas, giftwrapped the election for Abutbul before it even started, as all of their votes almost certainly went to him. Cohen needed everyone else to vote for him to even have a chance of winning.
Ordinarily, Abutbul being re-elected would be a good thing as Israel is a democratic country and the citizens of Beit Shemesh elected the candidate who represents them. However, we should examine the process of how some members (as I do not want to make generalizations) of the haredi communities decide on who they vote for, or as I call it “steps to electing a candidate from a haredi party”: (Before I state the steps, I need to make clear that this isn’t meant to offend or disrespect anyone, but to bring to light the corrupt way that religion is being tampered with for political gain).
1) Decide on a candidate.
2) Go to a respected rabbi in the haredi community, (preferably a rabbi respected by all streams of haredi Judasim) and convince him, many times with misinformation, to come out in support of your candidate.
3) The rabbi speaks to his followers and makes promises in the name of God that if only you follow his decision, all your wishes will be answered, your place will be in heaven, etc.
4) The followers submissively choose the candidate the rabbi promotes, without asking too many questions.
To understand these steps properly, we must also understand the concept of “da’at torah.” This misused concept (which I cannot go into detail about due to length restrictions), which many of the haredi community suscribe to, essentially means that believers should seek out rabbinic guidance on all matters of life, not only matters of Jewish law, or Halachah.
Unfortunately this concept has developed into blind adherence to rabbinic decisions regarding matters totally unrelated to Jewish law – for example choosing a candidate to run an effective city.
Having taken into consideration da’at torah, I return to the steps I listed above with regard to the Beit Shemesh elections.
1) The haredi candidate and incumbent mayor of Beit Shemesh – Moshe Abutbul for the Shas party.
2) In a rare video caught on camera, activists for Abutbul went to one of the most influential rabbinical figures of our time, Rav Aharon Shteinman, and delivered misinformation to persuade the rabbi to support their candidate. For instance, when talking about Eli Cohen they called him “the one that [Finance Minister Yair] Lapid put as his candidate.”
3) Rabbi Shteinman comes out in support of Moshe Abutbul, declaring, “If a secular mayor will be elected in Beit Shemesh, then it will be a desecration of God’s name.”
4) The followers of Rabbi Shteinman follow his declaration without thinking twice.
This is just one example from one election. It’s scary to think that this is the fashion in which some elections, and hence people’s futures, are decided.
There is a famous quote by Churchill which applies to this situation: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
I tried desperately to convince voters from haredi-populated areas around Beit Shemesh (English-speaking and otherwise) during the elections to try and do their own research and come to their own conclusions regarding the best candidate for mayor, but I was met mostly with shrugs and counter arguments that were based upon fabrications.
For instance, Eli Cohen is “anti-haredi,” or “will try to turn Beit Shemesh into a secular city.” Apparently, spreading slander about an individual which is based on nothing is fine according to Jewish law. In summary, instead of focusing on uniting people with different views these elections only served as another barrier in a divided city. Hopefully, in future elections rabbis will encourage unity among our people, and acceptance of the other.
The author is currently studying to get his license as a CPA, and has lived in Beit Shemesh for 15 years.