The city of Beit Shemesh is set to hold a new mayoral election after the Supreme Court found “a comprehensive, organized system” of fraud on the original day of voting, upholding the decision of a lower court.
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The Haredi party Shas, whose candidate, incumbent Moshe Abutbul, had won the November vote, appealed a Jerusalem District Court decision ordering a repeat election in Beit Shemesh, a city torn by tensions between its ultra-Orthodox and secular communities.
"The picture being painted regarding the elections in Beit Shemesh is troubling," said the ruling authored by Justice Uzi Vogelman. "Residents, and the democratic election system which is meant to express their will, fell victim to an organized, systematic, and comprehensive effort to break the law and skew the municipal and mayoral election results."
Vogelman concluded his ruling with a quote from Judaic sources, “‘distance yourself from ugliness and all that resembles it,’ We must distance ourselves from this unsightliness by eliminating it. We were given the task, and thus we ruled differently from the trial court,” wrote Vogelman.
Beit Shemesh’s Haredi deputy mayor blamed the ruling on "public pressure and the press," which could jeopardize the future of his political alliance.
"[The court] did not closely examine the rather weak evidence," said Shmulik Greenberg of United Torah Judaism.
On December 26, the Jerusalem District Court ruled that a repeat election must be held in Beit Shemesh. The judges received petitions regarding the election results filed by Eli Cohen, a secular candidate for mayor, who lost to Shas’ Abutbul. Shas chairman Aryeh Deri said then that his party would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
The court ruling mentioned a phenomenon of “drop-off points,” for identification cards in synagogues throughout the city, where the documentation was then taken and used for voter fraud. The justices wrote that the scheme was a “planned, organized” effort.
It was also written that “the activities in question were not done privately, but rather in connection with political activists, and were done in order to bring about a victory for Abutbul and the ‘koach’ ticket in the elections.” Referencing messages sent to associates of Abutbul, and intercepted by police, the justices were able to link officials close to the mayor with the fraudulent activities. One such message read: “They’ve caught us. Bring people here immediately.”