Beit Shemesh Gears Up for Fateful Election Rerun

YERUSHALAYIM -

Calls for a unified front in the elections in Beit Shemesh have been issued in recent days by rabbinical and political leaders in the chareidi community as vote-getting efforts reached fever pitch before Tuesday’s fateful contest.

The special election was ordered by the High Court, which accepted a petition charging election fraud by Eli Cohen, the defeated challenger to chareidi mayor Moshe Abutbul. Tension in the city has been high for months as Cohen mounted a scurrilous, anti-chareidi campaign, replete with harassment and threats against Abutbul and his supporters.

The country is watching the race, many viewing it as a possible turning point, not only for Beit Shemesh, but for religious-secular relationships in other cities as well.

The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisrael and Degel HaTorah, and the Moetzes Chachmei HaTorah of Shas have all issued proclamations in support of Abutbul.

Cohen has the support of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Likud.

Chareidi activists in the city told Hamodia that they estimate the election will be decided by a margin of 2-3%, similar to the original election.

A poll published by Rafi Smith on Friday offered conflicting data on voter trends. On the one hand, the poll put Cohen a few percentage points ahead of Abutbul, with 16% remaining undecided. At the same time, it said that the chareidim would gain 10 seats in the 19-seat city council, giving them the majority.

In a summary statement, Smith said that “a week before the elections, the contest was neck-and-neck. … It is so close that the candidate who can best transport his supporters to the polls will win.”

That is indeed where the effort is being made on both sides, with much at stake. For chareidim, it is imperative that Abutbul wins another term. Beit Shemesh is the only city where there is an abundance of land upon which housing for chareidim can be built. Cohen has vowed to make sure that apartments will be marketed to all, and has threatened to block projects already being slated for marketing.