The city of Beit Shemesh will hold new elections, a Jerusalem court ruled Thursday.
Calls for reelections have been highly controversial. Those who called for reelections argued that an attempt at major elections fraud on voting day meant the results of the vote could not be trusted.
On election day itself, police arrested several hareidi-religious men in possession of an estimated 200 fake ID cards, which they had apparently been using to cast fraudulent votes. In addition, several residents said after the elections that when they had come to vote, they had been wrongly told that they had already voted.
The revelations triggered an outcry among local residents - in particular supporters of Abutbul's rival, Eli Cohen, who lost out to the hareidi incumbent by a mere 956 votes - who called for an immediate rerun of the election, accusing Abutbul and his supporters of conducting a large-scale voting scam.
Votes for the city council were just as tight, where 19 councilors represent 9 different parties: a shift of 1,398 votes could change the entire makeup of the city council.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein was among those who called to redo the elections in wake of the fraud case. A police investigation of attempted fraud “shows a deliberate, systematic, organized” fraud attempt by dozens of people “who invested significant financial resources,” Weinstein wrote.
The fraud was part of “a premeditated attempt to change the outcome of the elections,” he said.
Supporters of incumbent candidate Moshe Abutbul responded to the furor by accusing the proponents of a revote of seeking to oust Abutbul simply because he is hareidi.
The elections were widely seen as a referendum on the city's future, and in particular, on the balance between the interests of the hareidi-religious and non-hareidi populations.
Prior to the court’s ruling Thursday, Abutbul said he was not concerned about the impending decision. “I’m not tense because I know I did what I could to prove our innocence. There was no coordinated effort to commit fraud,” he said.
Following the ruling MK Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid), a Beit Shemesh resident who has been vocal in his support for a revote, said he welcomed the ruling. “We have been fighting for years for the character of Beit Shemesh, which is a microcosm of Israeli society,” he said.
“Now we will focus on ensuring that the new elections are completely clean and democratic,” he declared. “The victor will be accepted by every resident of the city regardless of his religious affiliation.”
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud), also celebrated the decision, declaring that "neither forgeries nor subterfuge will decide who is elected as mayor of the city of Beit Shemesh, only its residents."
Danon went on the applaud the judges for their decision, which he said "defended the heart of democracy".