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Thousands in Beit Shemesh rally against election results

Backers of defeated secular mayoral candidate cry foul play amid claims of voting irregularities in municipal poll won by ultra-Orthodox incumbent

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Beit Shemesh residents holding signs as they protest in front of the municipality building in the city on October 29, 2013. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Beit Shemesh residents holding signs as they protest in front of the municipality building in the city on October 29, 2013. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A week after the ultra-Orthodox backed mayor narrowly won reelection in Beit Shemesh, some 2,000 residents rallied Tuesday night against the ballot results and demanded that the vote be declared null due to voting shenanigans.

Religious and non-religious backers of Eli Cohen, who lost the mayoral race to incumbent Shas party candidate Moshe Abutbul, gathered outside city hall after the Jerusalem region police announced that the matter was being transferred to the fraud unit for further investigation.

Suspicions have mounted of irregularities at some of the city’s polling stations.

“This is not against the ultra-Orthodox, but in favor of clean elections and in favor of fair elections,” said MK Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid), who was at the demonstration. “It is a foundation of democracy that the majority decides.”

Lipman, a resident of Beit Shemesh, told the crowd that earlier Tuesday he sent a letter to Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar asking him to seriously consider another round of elections for the city.

On the day of the elections, last Tuesday, police found 200 identity cards in two apartments in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Beit Shemesh, leading to suspicions that they were used for voter fraud.

Cohen lost by fewer than 1,000 votes.

A similar protest over the same issue was held last week.

Beit Shemesh, a city of 75,000 in the Judean mountains outside Jerusalem, has become deeply 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 city.

In July 2012, Egged was ordered to compensate a young girl who was forced by ultra-Orthodox passengers to sit at the back of a bus in the city. The presiding 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 women refused to give up her seat and sit in the back. Haredi rioters have also violently protested construction at a Beit Shemesh site that once may have been a burial ground.

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