Beit Shemesh Protest Called Against Mayor Abutbul

Tensions continue to rise in Beit Shemesh after allegations of corruption in municipal election results; major protest set for Tuesday.

Tova Dvorin,

Female protesters in Beit Shemesh
Female protesters in Beit Shemesh
Israel news photo: Knesset finance committee

Controversy over Beit Shemesh's municipal elections continues as a major protest against re-elected mayor Moshe Abutbul has been called for this Tuesday night in front of the conflicted city's municipal offices. 

The protest follows escalating political upheaval over allegations of voter fraud this week, where some 200 votes were found to be registered to Beit Shemesh citizens now living abroad.

Tensions were already high in Beit Shemesh, a town roughly 40 minutes from Jerusalem, in the light of violence by extremist elements within the local Haredi population. The city received a whirlwind of negative publicity in the past year, amid controversy over Hareidi extremist rock-throwing attacks on elementary schoolgirls, attacks on visiting women, and illegal bus segregation. Some locals have blamed Abutbul's municipal council, who was rumored to be influencing the inaction of local police forces - charges he strenuously denies.

Many non-hareidi residents also fear that the re-election of a Haredi mayor would stifle development for the city's other neighborhoods, who are already suffering the strain of what many perceive to be a Haredi monopoly. 

Outraged Beit Shemesh residents have already staged one major protest this past Thursday night, to which Mayor Moshe Abutbul responded by calling his opponents "childish." 

The current protest is expected to be attended by thousands of disgruntled residents, and is open to members of the press. A major campaign for witnesses to give testimony on election fraud has been launched, with calls for accounts to be mailed to Eli Cohen, Abutbul's opponent in the mayoral elections, who lost by a relatively small margin of votes. 

Some of the types of election fraud already reported have included votes by former Beit Shemesh residents now living abroad, people who arrived at voting booths to be told that their vote was already cast, more ballots counted than voters present at some polling stations, eyewitness reports of destroying votes, voting more than once, and voting using false identification. A police raid has already led to arrests for some of these crimes. 

If the protest, or campaign, is successful, a decision to overturn the election results would reignite accusations - again, strenuously denied - of corruption by Moshe Abutbul in particular and his party, Shas, in general.

No official action yet has been taken to overturn election results, nor has any Knesset official made a statement on the issue.