By Shmuel Katz
It seems like every time I say that I am going to write about an issue only once or twice and then put it behind me, G‑d makes other plans. Having written about the Bet Shemesh elections and the unhappy results thereof, I have been almost religiously avoiding covering the aftermath here in Bet Shemesh. It seemed to me a bit of sour grapes, people looking to seize any way of denying the outcome of the election.
In my recent two-week trip to North America and the UK, I kept hearing the same comment, “What is going on in Bet Shemesh with the elections?” Despite the fact that the elections were conducted a month earlier, the seemingly endless cycle of protests and counter protests kept the story at the top of the news. And our esteemed mayor did not help himself on the PR front either.
To recap, incumbent (and chareidi) Mayor Moshe Abutbol won the recent elections with a margin of victory of almost 1,000 votes. Although there were reports of voter fraud, and even arrests made (on Election Day) of people engaging in such fraud, based on the published reports, I estimated the total potential provable cases of fraud to be significantly less than the margin of victory. Since the courts would be ruling on any potential revote, I could not see any chance that they would overturn the election.
Yet there were multiple demonstrations held, a debate upon the Knesset floor, and a lawsuit filed. The police investigated. And the mayor reportedly said that the election was fairly conducted, the results conclusive, and that people should wait for the police to weigh in with their report before raising the cry of “foul.”
(He also made public statements for the news, first saying that, thank G‑d, Bet Shemesh has no gays at all (and even if there were gays here, it would be a matter for the Health Ministry and the police), and then, clarifying the first statement, saying that he had not understood the question; he’d thought they were talking about pedophiles and not gays, and it is pedophiles who are nonexistent in Bet Shemesh. Both the original statement and the clarification were reported worldwide.)
Many newsgroups, bloggers, and e-mails in Bet Shemesh were reporting (with either no or little verification) stories about different types of voter fraud and urging people to continue to protest and , support the protest. And then, last week, after originally stating that he was not in charge of elections and could do nothing to help, Attorney General of the State of Israel Yehudah Weinstein filed a legal appeal of the election (to accompany the one filed by candidate Eli Cohen), recommending that the courts overturn the results and order a new election.
As essentially the attorney for the government, Weinstein had access to the entire police investigation. I would think that he would have an understanding of the scope of the fraud committed, based on the police findings. He seems to believe that there was enough fraud to have potentially changed the result and that the elections should be redone in order to ensure that the voters of Bet Shemesh have an honest result.
Predictably, the mayor and his supporters blasted the attorney general (along with anyone who has called for a revote or accused them of fraud) as anti-chareidi and accused him of chareidi-bashing. It is an easy claim to make, because the accusation is easy to believe and there is really no way to prove or disprove it.
I had predicted that if the initial results went the other way, we would see massive protests, some violent. With the courts set to review and possibly rule on the matter on 10 December, I am sure that Bet Shemesh will continue to be in the news for some time to come. v
Shmuel Katz is the executive director of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah (www.migdalhatorah.org), a new gap-year yeshiva. Shmuel, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July of 2006. Before making aliyah, he was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.