Expectation grows for repeal of Beit Shemesh elections
Attorney general preparing to ask court for new elections as police find growing evidence of widespread voter fraud
Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is considering going to court to overturn the results of October’s Beit Shemesh municipal elections over allegations of widespread fraud.
A police investigation into allegations that some supporters of Mayor Moshe Abutbul had voted multiple times has led, according to a Justice Ministry official, to the realization “that there is no alternative to new elections, as things appear now.”
Officials, speaking anonymously to Israel Radio, cited the growing body of evidence related to instances of fraud, including the discovery of some 200 identity cards in an apartment and car believed to belong to Abutbul supporters and the finding of a cache of clothing that apparently served to disguise individuals who voted multiple times on election day.
Two suspects have been arrested and at least eight more questioned in the growing investigation.
Abutbul, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi and the Shas candidate for mayor, won reelection in the October 22 vote against challenger Eli Cohen, who represented secular and religious-Zionist residents. Abutbul defeated Cohen by a margin of fewer than 1,000 votes.
In light of the close vote and growing evidence of fraud, and after holding several meetings on the issue in his office in recent weeks, the attorney general is expected to appeal the vote and ask the courts to order a new municipal election.
The decision to appeal is expected soon, likely before the weekend, after which appealing the election will be prohibited by law.
Investigators suspect that Shaya Brand, an associate of Abutbul, allegedly organized a plan to identify nonvoters and pay them for their identity cards, so that Abutbul supporters could use them to cast fraudulent votes, police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said in early November.
Earlier this month, some 2,000 Beit Shemesh residents protested outside of city hall, calling for the nullification of the election results due to the voting irregularities.
Beit Shemesh, a city of 75,000 southwest of Jerusalem, has become deeply internally divided in recent years as neighborhoods have seen a large influx of ultra-Orthodox residents.
The city has been the scene of sometimes violent tensions between the Haredi population and other residents. In 2011, eight-year-old Naama Margolese was spat on and insulted by Haredi men when walking to her school at the edge of an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, bringing national and international attention to the tensions in the city.
In July 2012, a young girl was forced by ultra-Orthodox passengers to sit at the back of a bus in the city. A judge ruled that gender segregation on a public bus was illegal and it was the driver’s responsibility to prevent it.
In July of this year, a group of Haredi men reportedly smashed the windows of a bus after a woman refused to give up her seat and sit in the back.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.