Six days after the municipal elections, the city of Beit Shemesh, population 85,000, is emerging as a place where the vote was significantly messed with, and as more and more testimonies are surfacing, it is possible that the scope of the corruption will force the courts to become involved.
According to the final results of the vote, as published by the Ministry of the Interior, incumbent mayor Moshe Abutbul, Shas, has won with 50.5 percent (17,655 votes), compared with 47.86 percent (16,741 votes) his opponent, Eli Cohen, Jewish Home.
The difference between the two, 924 votes, may just be small enough to fall below the number of suspected fraudulent votes, and justify some kind of corrective government action.
According to Ma’ariv, voters who came to the election stations discovered to their horror that someone had already voted using their name. In a significant number of stations Haredim were caught attempting to vote with someone else’s ID card. In one station the number of vote envelopes was higher by several dozens than the number of registered voters there. So no one doubts the trend, the question is whether the mounting number of anecdotes of fraud and fraud attempts justifies a legal intervention.
Reuven Haro, a vote observer in the Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet neighborhood told Maariv his assigned voting area was almost exclusively Haredi. “Early in the morning, a Haredi young man came in, handed us his ID card and went behind the curtain to vote. We passed the ID card between us and something looked suspicious. When the man came back, one of the vote committee members asked him what was his mother’s name, and he answered. I took the card and asked him how old he was. He said, 27, but the card said he was 24.
“I saw he had two registered daughters. I asked him, what are the names of your daughters? He couldn’t answer. The ID card picture was of a blond man, while the man before us was dark. We called up the Interior Ministry operation center and they told us to disqualify him so he couldn’t vote again, and to give him back the card. Just like that. We thought it was strange, because it looked like a criminal violation to me, but that’s what we did and the man went home.”
Y, who served as vice chair of the election committee in the Menucha V’Nachala neighborhood, also a Haredi area, told Ma’ariv: “We had several improper or suspicious cases like that, and the worst of them happened towards the end of the day. A young Haredi man showed up to vote, and the picture in his ID card was from 20 years ago. You couldn’t recognize him. He went behind the curtain and stayed there way too long/ When he came out, I took out his ID card personal data attachment and asked him to tell me the names of his children. He knew the first two, but couldn’t recall the third and was stuck. And then the election committee chair, a Haredi man who belongs to one of the Chassidic groups in the city, started screaming at me: Stop, leave him alone, I know him. The man took advantage of the tumult, left the ID card and fled. We handed the card to the police, but this was a huge miss. The only way to find out what really happened is by interrogating the chairman. He knew the guy.”
Yossi Korem, chairman of the election committee in the Cheftzibah neighborhood, told Ma’ariv: “In the afternoon a Haredi young woman came to vote, and it was later discovered that she had already voted before with a different ID card, and a different wig. We were lucky that a committee member recognized her and said, This woman was already here a short while ago. We asked her if she had already voted and she denied it. The picture in the card looked similar to her, but the head cover was confusing and made it very tough to identify. We started asking her questions. We asked when she was born, she said, Around the month of Adar.” She could not recall her children’s names. we called the police and they took her for questioning. It turned out this was her second vote.”
Half an hour after police had interrogated the woman voter, the cops raided two apartments in a building near that voting station, and caught 140 ID cards that were spread on tables in both places. In addition, police found what they dubbed “costumes”: different head scarves, sunglasses, women’s hats. They also discovered a list of local election stations and two passports.
Seven Haredim were arrested in the two apartments, while some 15 fled through windows. Another group actually attacked the cops, trying to prevent the arrest and the collection of the incriminating items. As the police were picking up the suspects, another Haredi man arrived in a car and the cops found 31 ID cards inside the vehicle. The frightened driver attempted to dump additional ID cards in a nearby garbage can and those were picked up by police as well.
In a discussion the day after the election, in front of Magistrates Court Judge Sharon Larry-Bavli, Jerusalem District Fraud Division investigators suggested several theories. They were certain that some of the ID cards were forgeries—and in at least one case an ID picture had been replaced by a passport photo. Other cards had been given by their owners so someone else would use them to vote – an obviously illegal act. But there was a third theory, that extremist Haredim were demanding of their flock to hand in their ID cards as a show of fealty to the anti-Zionist ideology, down with the state, etc. – and then those same Haredi extremists supplied their own people with the cards to vote the “right” way.
Shlomo Engleberg, who wears a knitted yarmulke, was an observer at a voting station in the Haredi Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet. He told Ma’ariv there were no suspicious voters, no problem ID cards – until it came to the vote count at the end of the night. It appeared that the 265 voters at that that particular station had produced 300 envelopes, or 35 more envelopes than voters.
According to Engleberg, he insisted that a note be made in the record and that the authorities be informed, but he has no idea whether or not there had been a follow up.
There were reported cases where Haredi voters who spent too much time behind the curtain were caught stuffing their pockets with voting notes, depleting the booth of some candidates’ notes. One such voter said it was all a nostalgia thing, he wanted to bring the notes home to his wife and children.
There are several testimonies by voters who arrived at their appointed station only to discover that they had already voted.
The solution the election committee agreed on in one such case sounds creative, but probably not legal, and someone should review it: a young woman who was listed to vote in Beit Shemesh but goes to school in Jerusalem, made the effort to get to the booth before the end of the day – only to discover that someone had already voted using her name. She finally managed to convince the committee that she had not voted before, but the chairman told her that if the number of envelopes exceeds the number of voters by one – they’d pick a random envelope and trash it.
So far, Judge Larry-bavli has remanded the seven Haredi suspects, and the prosecution should be able to get a conviction against them on a rich variety of voter fraud items. But the question of the validity of the entire vote in Beit Shemesh is outside the scope of the Magistrates Court.
For that to happen, someone in Beit Shemesh needs to sue.Yori Yanover
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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