An estimated 2,000 people protested in the city of Beit Shemesh on Tuesday evening over reports of widespread fraud in the recent city elections.
Protesters called to redo the elections and to guarantee a fair and fraud-free vote.
Incumbent mayor Moshe Abutbul defeated his chief rival in the elections, Eli Cohen, by less than 1,000 votes. Cohen’s supporters say reports of fraud mean he, not Abutbul, may have been the true winner.
The fiercely fought elections battle was seen by many as a fight for the future of the city, with the hareidi-religious Abutbul representing the power of the city’s rapidly-growing hareidi population. Many of Abutbul’s detractors have accused him of planning to turn Beit Shemesh into “a second Bnei Brak.”
However, speakers at Tuesday night’s rally emphasized that the protest was not a demonstration against the hareidi community. The issue at hand is elections fraud, they said.
At a previous rally protesters spoke out against "hareidi control of the city."
On the day of the elections, police raided a local apartment and found approximately 200 fake ID cards. The cards were found to bear the names of Beit Shemesh residents who would have been eligible to vote in the elections, but who were overseas on elections day.
Police arrested eight hareidi-religious men who are suspected of having created the ID cards with the intention of using them to cast illegal votes, presumably for Abutbul. One of the men who has been questioned in the affair is the son of a hareidi-religious Member of Knesset.
At least 30 of the ID cards were used on elections day to cast illegal votes.
Police initially believed that even if all of the fake IDs had been put to use, it would not affect the outcome of the elections. However, there have reportedly been new developments in the case, which has been transferred to the police’s anti-fraud unit and is now under a media gag order.
In addition, Eli Cohen and his supporters say many residents of the city have come forth with other stories of elections day fraud.
One resident shared her story with Channel 10 news. She reported that when she and a neighbor went to the local polling station to vote, her neighbor was told that she had already voted.
“She said, ‘Excuse me, I definitely didn’t vote,’ and they said, ‘You did vote, your name has been crossed off,’” she recalled. Fortunately, she said, her neighbor’s son’s babysitter was among those supervising the voting, and was able to confirm that the neighbor had not voted, allowing her to cast a ballot.
There have also been reports that residents of the city who were not planning to vote were paid 100 to 200 shekels in exchange for the use of their ID cards on elections day.
Protesters at Tuesday night’s rally held signs saying, “Beit Shemesh demands a repeat of the elections,” "They stole our city," and “We are not giving up on Beit Shemesh.”