Ultra-Orthodox parties join forces in Beit Shemesh run-off

Second round of municipal elections set for Sunday in 35 locales

Mayoral run-off votes to be held in those cities and towns where no candidate received 40%, including Haifa, Beit Shemesh, Ariel, Rehovot and Ramle

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

A woman votes in the municipal elections in Jerusalem, on February 27, 2024 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
A woman votes in the municipal elections in Jerusalem, on February 27, 2024 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Voters in 35 cities and towns across the country are set to go to the polls for a second round of voting on Sunday in locales where none of the candidates running for mayor managed to secure the 40 percent of ballots necessary to win last month’s municipal elections.

In Haifa, incumbent Mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem was sent packing after only picking up 4.5% of the vote in a crowded field. No clear winner emerged, however, and the run-off in the northern city, which is Israel’s third most populous, will see former longtime mayor Yona Yahav, 79 — who lost to Kalisch-Rotem in 2018 — run against David Etzioni.

According to local news site Haipo, one important issue in Haifa’s mayoral race was Kalisch-Rotem’s handling of the wild boar infestation that has plagued the city in recent years.

Another notable run-off race will take place in Beit Shemesh after incumbent Mayor Aliza Bloch edged out her predecessor Moshe Abutbul for second place. With all ballots counted, Bloch had 32.4% of the vote to Abutbul’s 31.9%.

She’s now slated to face off against Shmuel Greenberg, of the ultra-Orthodox Degel HaTorah party, who received 35.7% of votes. Now that Abutbul is out of the running, his Shas party has lined up behind Greenberg in an effort to reestablish ultra-Orthodox control of the city.

In an open letter, Shas’s Council of Torah Sages called on residents of Beit Shemesh to vote for Greenberg with the understanding that Degel voters would then back a Shas candidate in the next election.

Beit Shemesh mayor and candidate Aliza Bloch casts her ballot at a voting station on the morning of the Municipal Elections, in Beit Shemesh, February 27, 2024. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

During the first round of voting on February 27, police arrested two Beit Shemesh men on suspicion of voter fraud for allegedly offering money to residents to vote for a specific candidate.

During the 2013 election, local police discovered hundreds of identity cards in an apartment and car believed to belong to supporters of Abutbul — raising suspicions that they had planned to identify non-voters and pay them for their identity cards so that Abutbul supporters could use them to cast fraudulent ballots.

The Jerusalem District Court subsequently ordered new elections, which Abutbul won with 51% of the vote. His term in office coincided with a series of violent attacks by extremists attempting to impose their strict ultra-Orthodox values on their neighbors.

Rehovot will also hold a run-off between Matan Dil and Zohar Blum after incumbent Mayor Rahamim Malul trailed behind them in third place.

Run-off elections will also be held in Efrat and Ariel after no candidate secured 40% of the vote in either of the West Bank settlements.

The Ariel election presents an opportunity for a political comeback for former Likud MK Oren Hazan, whose campaign comes four-and-a-half years after he was sentenced to 100 hours of community service for physically and verbally abusing a municipal worker there.

After his election in 2015, Israeli TV reported that the freshman MK had hired prostitutes for his friends and used hard drugs in Bulgaria, where he used to run a casino.

Then-Likud Knesset member Oren Hazan reacts during a Knesset plenary session, on November 27, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Hazan’s one term as an MK was filled with scandals and, in January 2018, he was the first Knesset member in the history of the State of Israel to receive a six-month ban on parliamentary activities, as punishment for a series of incidents in which he insulted his fellow lawmakers.

He is facing off in the vote against Yair Chetboun.

Further run-off elections will also be held in Abu Ghosh, Kafr Kanna, Ness Ziona, Kiryat Gat and Ramle. The day will not be a legal holiday and voting will be restricted to the hours of 1:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.

Polls will be open on IDF bases and in the field in Gaza as well, according to the Interior Ministry.

In total, 3,511,758 out of 7,100,390 eligible voters cast ballots on February 27, or 49%, down from 56% during the previous municipal elections in 2018.

Altogether, 24,910 candidates ran for election on 4,500 party slates, including 801 candidates for mayor, of whom only 83 were women. Voters cast two ballots; one for the head of the council, and a second for a council slate.

Approximately 50,000 officials were involved in staging the elections, which cost the country some NIS 1 billion ($277 million).

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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