The Degel Hatorah wing of the Lithuanian- haredi United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party has officially denied rumors that will run its own candidate to challenge Beit Shemesh Mayor and Shas representative Moshe Abutbul.
Last week, numerous reports said that Degel Hatorah would run its own candidate in Beit Shemesh, a move expected to cause severe internal haredi strife. However, the movement released an official statement on Friday denying the reports, saying that the matter is still undecided.
The official statement issued by the Degel Hatorah movement states that "in order to replace a representative in the community or to appoint a new representative, a discussion should be held in the management of Degel Hatorah or a small body on its behalf.
"In the past few days, reports have been published that supposedly made decisions about Netanya, Kiryat Ye'arim and Beit Shemesh. The publications are not true," said the statement.
"Any decision that will be made in any settlement prior to the municipal elections will be published in a manner authorized by Degel Hatorah," the statement said.
According to the haredi Beharedi Haredim website, the faction had decided to issue the statement after realizing that the public was being inundated with misinformation and rumors.
While Shas representative Moshe Abutbul has served as Beit Shemesh Mayor since 2008, the Degel Hatorah faction is still debating whether to run its own candidate as Beit Shemesh's Lithuanian-haredi population continues to climb.
The United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party consists of two separate Ashkenazic-haredi parties, Degel HaTorah and Agudat Israel, which joined together prior to the 1992 elections.
A decision by Degel Hatorah to run its own candidate would shatter the united haredi front that swept Abutbul to victory during a hotly contested 2013 race and is expected to set off a round of ugly infighting within the haredi political establishment.
In January, Shas head Aryeh Deri made a high-profile visit to Beit Shemesh in what was perceived in the haredi media as a show of support for Abutbul. During a joint press conference, Deri had 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 Beit 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.