Deri vows that Shas will retain control of Beit Shemesh

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri visits Beit Shemesh, predicts that Shas-backed incumbent mayor will win upcoming elections.

Tzvi Lev ,

Aryeh Deri and Abutbul
Aryeh Deri and Abutbul

Interior Minister and Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri visited Beit Shemesh on Thursday and vowed that incumbent Shas-backed Mayor Moshe Abutbul would win the upcoming municipal elections in October.

Unlike years past, the threat to Abutbul is not from Beit Shemesh's non-haredi residents, but from the United Torah Judaism party, which is mulling its own bid in the increasingly haredi-dominated city. Deri called on UTJ leaders to unite behind Abutbul, a move which he contended would ensure that Beit Shemesh retained its haredi leadership.

"I call on (UTJ leaders) Moshe Gafni and Meir Porush to join in this move for Beit Shemesh...we owe Abutbul gratitude for what he has done for Beןt Shemesh," said Deri.

Deri also hinted that matters would get ugly should UTJ float its own candidate."Moshe Abutbul will be the mayor here. If it does not work in a peaceful way then so be it," said Deri.

Beןt Shemesh's previous elections in 2013 were marred by widespread allegations of electoral fraud amid a contentious campaign that was seen as a battle over the city's increasingly haredi image.

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.

However, Abutbul won the court-ordered reelection by a razor-thin margin.