Activist: Action Likely on Beit Shemesh Election

There is an good chance the Interior Ministry will order a recount or a repeat of elections in Beit Shemesh, local activist believes.

David Lev ,

Beit Shemesh, Tuesday night
Beit Shemesh, Tuesday night
Israel news photo: Flash 90

With less than 1,000 votes separating incumbent Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul from challenger Eli Cohen, there is a high chance that the Interior Ministry will agree to a vote review, says Attorney Dina Rand, number four on the joint Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) and Beit Shemesh Hozeret (Beit Shemesh Returns) list for city council.

When that review is done, she is confident, the results of last week's mayoral election in the city will be reversed - either via a recount or a repeat election. “For over a week we have been hearing accounts of irregularities and fraud. A police investigations is uncovering even more information. We plan to take all this and demand that the courts order a recount or another election, and if necessary we will go to the High Court,” she said.

The contentious campaign in Beit Shemesh, in which Abutbul, the Shas mayor who is supported by hareidi elements in the town, barely defeated Cohen, the candidate of most of the secular and Religious Zionist communities in Beit Shemesh, has extended long beyond the election results were counted. Earlier this week, some 2,000 people held a major protest demanding action in light of the reports of fraud in the election.

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 vote.

In light of the allegations of fraud, yesterday (Wednesday), hareidi MK Rabbi Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid) joined growing calls for a rerun of the poll. Prior to being elected to the 19th Knesset Lipman was a local activist in Ramat Beit Shemesh, leading a high-profile campaign to combat what residents say is a growing phenomenon of hareidi extremism.

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.”

One idea that has come up in recent days is splitting the city into two. The large hareidi communities in the city, and the bedrock of support for Abutbul, are in Ramat Beit Shemesh, a relatively new area which is south of the original town of Beit Shemesh, which is mostly secular and Religious Zionist. Petitions are being circulated advocating “spinning off” Ramat Beit Shemesh, making it a separate town, where Abutbul would presumably remain mayor.

Hollander said she was opposed to this idea. “I believe that all elements in the city can live together. I live in a mixed neighborhood and we discuss all issues amicably. If I didn't believe in the future of this city, I would leave,” she added.