Non-Haredi Parties in Beit Shemesh Uniting to Defeat ultra-Orthodox Mayor

Amid increased tensions between Haredi and non-Haredi residents, the upcoming mayoral race has been dubbed 'the last battle for the future of the city.'

Habayit Hayehudi and several other political parties will back the same candidate in the upcoming Beit Shemesh mayoral race in an attempt to counter the city's powerful Haredi vote. Aliza Bloch, a high school principal and Habayit Hayehudi member, declared her intention to run during a press conference on Wednesday.

Bloch is supported by both Likud and Yesh Atid, which decided not to run their own candidates to increase the chance of defeating Moshe Abutbul, the current Haredi mayor and member of Shas. Abutbul has also received the backing of the Ashkenazi Haredi party, United Torah Judaism. 

Beit Shemesh has received a lot of attention in the past few years for increased conflict between its ultra-Orthodox and non-ultra-Orthodox residents. The tensions reached a peak over several incidents surrounding the exclusion of women in the predominantly Haredi neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh. In the city, which has a rapidly growing Haredi population, people expect that the main issue of the upcoming election will be this struggle, with the non-Haredi parties dubbing the election, "the last battle for the future of the city."

The non-Haredi camp, which comprises both secular and national religious Jews, is preparing a primary vote by public survey to determine which candidate will face off against Abutbul. Results are expected in August.

According to city sources, there are currently four candidates on the primary ballot: Eli Cohen, Motti Cohen, Richard Peres and Bloch. Deputy Mayor Meir Balaish, the only independent candidate, refused to sign on.

"I'm the one who can unite all the factions of the city to win the elections and implement the change that Beit Shemesh residents need," said Bloch during Wednesday's press conference. "We have one chance for this, and we cannot squander it." Bloch's headquarters said they are familiar with the survey, "but the details still aren't finalized and Aliza hopes to persuade the rest of the candidates to unify behind her."

According to the plan, the survey will be conducted by a national polling company and be accompanied by a committee of the candidates' representatives plus independent supervision. After the first round, the top two candidates will compete against each other in a second round at the end of August.

Putting forth a unified candidate "will prevent the Haredization of the city and will return Beit Shemesh into the hands of its residents," said Zion Sultan, who withdrew from the race earlier and is supportive of the primary. Sultan told Haaretz that in the last election, the secular and (non-Haredi) religious public "fell apart and lost the city to the Haredim." He attributed the defeat to the splitting of votes among two candidates. He thinks the primary, which is based on the Haredi model of internal voting, can help non-Haredi residents avoid a similar outcome this year.

Economy Minister and Habayit Hayehudi party chairman Naftali Bennett attended the press conference to support Bloch. He spoke about the negative public exposure Beit Shemesh has received in recent years and the need for something new.

"Aliza Blochis a symbol that something new is beginning in Beit Shemesh," he said.

Olivier Fitoussi