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      First Hearings Begin in Beit Shemesh Election Case

      Mayor Moshe Abutbul declares victory before walking into courtroom; prosecution admits 'fraudulent tactics' but not specific involvement.
      By Tova Dvorin
      First Publish: 12/10/2013, 12:51 PM

      Protest for re-elections in Beit Shemesh
      Protest for re-elections in Beit Shemesh
      Flash90

      The Jerusalem District Court met Tuesday morning for the first hearing on the appeal of local election results in Beit Shemesh.

      The proceedings, which were conducted by a panel of judges including the Honorable David Heshin, Moshe Sobel, and Yigal Marzel, began at 10:00 a.m. Both current mayor Moshe Abutbul and Eli Cohen were present with their respective legal teams. 

      Mayor Abutbul stated upon entering the court that he felt the proceedings would be in his favor, and that he was democratically elected. "We have nothing to fear; the law has spoken," he declared. 

      During the hearing, the prosecution admitted that while there was no "tangible evidence" for election fraud, "fraudulent practices in general" led to the skewing of election results. 

      Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein called for new elections after thousands demonstrated in November, claiming their votes for opposing candidate Eli Cohen were not counted in the tallies from the municipal elections. 

      In the decision, Weinstein cited mounting police evidence that fraud allegations had merit, including witness reports of torn ballots, voters being told before voting that their ballot had already been submitted, and other incidents. 250 fake ID cards were later found in a police raid, where they had allegedly been used to push forward more votes for Abutbul. Abutbul won the elections by an incredibly narrow margin, leading to even more suspicion about the outcome. 

      Hareidi MKs have contested the appeal, claiming the move is purely political and that the re-elections are defying the public's decision in the original vote. 

      Beit Shemesh has been the focal point of hareidi extremist activity; MKs claim that the measure is a form of "discrimination" and "populism" as punishment by the state for those activities.