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Extremism an Issue in Beit Shemesh Race

Beit Shemesh mayor recalls his accomplishments, but some residents say he’s to blame for continuing religious extremism.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 10/22/2013, 8:43 PM

Hareidi extremists from Atra Kadisha protest in Beit Shemesh
Hareidi extremists from Atra Kadisha protest in Beit Shemesh
Flash 90

The Beit Shemesh city elections are seeing incumbent Moshe Abutbul, who is hareidi-religious, facing off against several challengers, among them front-runner Eli Cohen.

While Abutbul argues that he has done much to develop the city over the past four years, several locals who spoke to Arutz Sheva said the issue they care about in Tuesday’s elections is extremist religious violence and hareidi-secular tension in the city.

Attorney Michael Ben-Lulu said, “I was born in Beit Shemesh, and the city has changed beyond recognition. I think many people who are concerned for the city’s future see these elections as fateful… That’s what I hear.”

“We need coexistence. I’ll respect your way of life, and you respect me. And that’s not happening today, unfortunately,” he added.

‘People Spit at Me’
Local teenager Shira Lenkin linked the elections to cases of extremist hareidi violence in the city, and particularly the Ramat Beit Shemesh-Bet neighborhood.

“If Abutbul wins, my parents might move. Because it’s really – people have spat at me twice in Ramat Bet, and it’s like a normal thing, nobody makes a big deal about it because it’s the norm… It’s hard,” she said.

“Beit Shemesh needs change. Abutbul hasn’t exactly been helping us. He hasn’t helped move anything forward,” she said.

She stressed the need for more activities for youth in particular. “There’s nothing to do here after school. It’s a shame. There are teens here, I saw them grow up… They’re not in school anymore. It’s really a shame,” she said.

One of the city's secular women said hareidi extremists were "making us hate religion" and "making the hareidi-religious hate us, the ‘secular,’ to the point of violence." She continued, "It’s an outrage that if I wear a shirt that’s really not revealing, a man chases after me and shouts insults. It’s outrageous. That cannot be Israel in 2014.”

Abutbul Blames Media ‘Demonization’
However, Abutbul argues that he has always promoted unity, and that the media is “demonizing” him and is falsely linking his name to extremism.

He said he supports unity across the religious and social spectrum. “We want to see everyone come together in a broad-based coalition,” he said.

“The test here is whether people believe me, or believe the media. Someone here is going to have to eat their hat,” he continued.

“Beit Shemesh is going to be the world’s most beautiful city,” he added. “We built malls here for everyone, four malls… We added more than 2,000 workplaces.”

Eli Cohen: ‘Bad Politicians’ Prevent Unity
Eli Cohen expressed optimism Tuesday morning. “The morning began well… We’ve been working on this for nine months.”

“I think that we have bad politicians here,” Cohen said. “The communities here are warm and wonderful. There’s agreement on issues among the hareidi-religious, the religious Zionists, the traditional. We can live peacefully here.”