High Court Orders New Elections in Beit Shemesh

YERUSHALAYIM -

Israel’s High Court turned down Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul’s appeal against cancellation of his October election victory on Tuesday, as had been expected.

Within hours of the Court’s decision, Interior Minister Gidon Saar announced that new elections will take place on March 11, The Jerusalem Post reported.

In response to the news, Abutbul said that he is thankful that the judiciary did not disqualify chareidim from voting altogether, though he is sure that in the course of time, that will happen too.

The mayor denounced the cancellation of the election results, saying that it was groundless and was a defamation of the chareidi public.

“The High Court has had its say; but now it is the turn of the people of Beit Shemesh to have their say,” noting that the actions of the courts have served to unify the various segments of the chareidi community in the city, and that he is confident of victory on March 11.

Shas chairman MK Arye Deri has said that if the lower court ruling would be upheld, as it was on Tuesday, it would amount to discrimination against Shas constituents. On Tuesday, he predicted that Abutbul would win by an even bigger margin next time. Abutbul was the Shas party candidate, and challenger Eli Cohen was backed by Jewish Home and others.

United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael Eichler said that “we had no expectation that the judiciary that raises its hand against Toras Moshe would act otherwise. Our answer will be at the ballot box.”

Abutbul’s lawyers argued that Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein and challenger Eli Cohen had exaggerated the extent of electoral fraud, noting that police had found a mere 36 cases of false documents, not nearly enough to affect Abutbul’s winning margin of 956 votes.

Much of the case of vote-rigging was built on the flimsiest evidence, including hearsay, they asserted, hardly the “attack on Israeli democracy” that was claimed.

“New elections should be the last option” and that “throwing out an election would be fixing an injustice with an injustice,” the appeal said.

Abutbul’s lawyer added that the lower court was wrong to limit the hearing to general arguments and documentary evidence with no calling or cross-examining of witnesses. While they recognized that this was standard for an administrative proceeding on election issues, which is not normally as rigorous as a full trial, the unprecedented nature of the Beit Shemesh case demanded a more careful review of the testimony.