The Jewish Home party won its day in court on Thursday with an administration court ruling that the October 22 elections for the Beit Shemesh mayor and city council are invalid because of suspected fraud. The court ordered a new vote.
Jewish Home mayoral candidate lost the election by 956 votes to Shas party incumbent Mayor Moshe Abutbul.
Shortly before the voting, police raid several homes and found identification cards that were in the hands of impersonators, and investigators said there is evidence of widespread fraud and suspicion of possible organized crime behind the forgeries.
Amazingly, Mayor Abutbul’s attorney told the court that, sure, there were some forgeries, but “you have to prove that all of the votes [separating Abutbul and Cohen] were invalid in order to cancel the elections. This is simple math. The police raided several homes and caught 120 identification cards, 36 of which were used to vote illegally. These are the facts, and the rest is speculation.”
Nice try, but no go, said the court. It is not just speculation; it is evidence that the foul play“went to the roots of the elections,” the court’s judges wrote in their ruling. It noted that “public trust collapsed.”
Shas is not known for clean politics. Neither is the Likud, but Shas’ problem is that it gets caught more often. It does not have the finesse of the Ashkenazi elite to be crooked and get away with it.
Just ask Aryeh Deri, who has returned to head the party after time ran out on his not being able to hold public office by virtue of his conviction and prison sentence for bribery, which politicians, religious and secular, think is not illegal if is a mitzvah.
Thursday’s decision was victory for the Jewish Home party, which already tastes an electoral victory in the re-run of the votes. A date has not yet been announced, but Beit Shemesh residents are anxious to vote again.
The city has been severely divided over religion. A radical Haredi cult has made life miserable for many national religious families. Many secular residents are furious over the increasing Haredi influence, let alone the radicals who want separate sidewalks for men and women.
A relatively large number of Americans live in Beit Shemesh, located a few miles west of Jerusalem. One of them is Dov Lipman, who now is a Knesset Member for the Yesh Atid party.
Several Haredi residents in Beit Shemesh have confessed to police investigators that they gave the identification cards to others to vote in their place, Israel radio reported.
On Election Day, police confiscated approximately 200 identification cards and disguises. Attorney General Yehudah Weinstein appealed to the courts to violate the recent elections in Beit Shemesh, and he judges asked for more proof. The identification card fraud pointed to an “intentional and systematic attempt to alter the election’s results,” Weinstein told the court.
The false voters disguised themselves while in a nearby apartment so they would not be recognized and then arrived at polling stations.
If a new election is held, the Jewish Home party is expecting their candidate, Eli Cohen, will win. Shas incumbent Mayor Moshe Abutbul beat Cohen by only 956 votes.
“Is the Haredi population’s blood permitted?” begins an article in Kikar Hashabbat following the Tuesday Channel 2 report on the Jerusalem District Court session regarding the AG allegations of Beit Shemesh voter fraud.
While AG Yehuda Weinstein was telling the court about the organized, criminal conspiracy to steal votes in the recent municipal elections in the city of Beit Shemesh, a few miles west of Jerusalem, Amalia Buchbut, a resident of Beit Shemesh standing outside the court house, told Channel 2 the Haredim were a “cancer.”
Speaking to the cameras, Buchbut, whose sleepy city has become a focal point in the struggle between militant Haredim and modern Orthodox and non-religious Israelis, Buchbut compared the Haredim to “a spreading cancer, with metastases in every single city.”
Ouch. Say what you will about Haredi attacks on non-Haredim, and they’ve been numerous and vicious, I don’t recall anyone going in the C-word direction.
Back in 2012, Likud MK Miri Regev, formerly the Deputy IDF Spokesperson, told a rally in south Tel Aviv that “the Sudanese are a cancer in our body – we’ll do whatever it takes to send them back where they came from.”
Regev tried to respond to the pile-on of condemnations from everyone with a microphone and/or a keyboard in Israel by explaining that she meant the good cancer, or, rather that she only referred to the fact that those Sudanese were spreading everywhere, but not like cancer cells. That she meant well, in short, and didn’t intend to equate war-ravaged illegal migrant workers with anything that sucks the vitality of the body and brings about a tortured and inevitable death.
It was something to watch, especially if you’re into blood sports.
Amalia Buchbut is not a politician (although in Israel she may be running for Chair of the Labor party in no time—everybody else seems to). She does not have a team of advisers guiding everything she says and does. But she does watch television, like most Israelis, and it just so happens that she said the cancer thing directly following a show on Channel 2 titled: “Battle for the Home,” which many, especially Haredim, considered to be nothing short of a hate and fear propaganda campaign against the bearded folks moving next door.
In Israel, as in America, television channels are licensed by the public, and so they must keep within the limits of good taste and journalistic standards. The Channel 2 state-appointed board of governors will likely meet to discuss just how awful that anti-Haredi attack has been—and I’m lead to understand it crossed all the red lines.
That’s what Yossi Elituv, a member of the board, told Kikar Hashabbat: that it crossed all the red lines.
Essentially, the program showed in disturbing details the depth of the Haredi housing crisis, which drives many to leave their natural home turf and wander into formerly secular environments.
The thing is, Haredim don’t move about stealthily. Wherever they go, they’re noticed, and wherever they go they evoke predictable sets of prejudices. They’re the Ostjuden of Israel.
The program, which was just launched on Channel 2, with host Mickey Chaimovich, who used to anchor the channel’s news, is right on the numbers: each year some 7,000 Haredi couples get married in Israel (some say 8,000-9,000) and they require 7,000 apartments.
Over the past few years only 5 settlements for Haredim have been established, and the need far outweighs the supply. And so they spread out into secular cities, like Beit Shemesh, and the rest is very unappealing history.
Here’s another figure: There are 800,000 Haredim living in Israel today. And the host states plainly: These stories could be your story, too, in your neighborhood, in your home.
Jerusalem District Court will discuss on Tuesday appeals of the municipal elections results in Beit Shemesh. The appeals have been submitted by AG Yehuda Weinstein and the losing mayoral candidate Eli Cohen.
In his appeal, the AG cited the police investigation of alleged vote fraud in the city which is split among Haredi, Modern Orthodox and Secular residents. The picture presented by police, the AG wrote, is of serious, systematic and organized criminal activity, intended to influence the election results.
The AG’s appeal suggests the fraud operation was planned well in advance of election day, and included cajoling legal voters to hand over their ID cards to Haredi party operatives. The cards were collected from voters’ homes and in synagogues. Those cards were used on election day by impostors.
Police raided apartments where they discovered 120 ID cards and passports, as well as notes with voting station numbers. Police also found handkerchiefs, hats, wigs and glasses, possibly for use in altering the appearance of impostors so they could vote more than once.
In addition, a car belonging to a major Haredi political figure was found to contain some 40 ID cards. The driver told police he was part of a network that recruited imposter voters.
According to Weinstein, the small gap—956 votes, 2.7%—between the winning candidate, incumbent mayor Moshe Abutbul, who is associated with the Haredim in Beit Shemesh, and the challenger, Eli Cohen, associated with Jewish Home, suggests that Cohen’s victory may have been reached entirely through fraudulent voting.
Abutbul’s attorneys will ask the court to dismiss the appeals, or at least to move it to a civil court, which would enable them to cross examine police witnesses who were used in compiling the damning report.
Haredi newspapers on Monday called on their readers to pray for the success of Mayor Abutbul—Moshe ben Varda—who may have to face a repeat election.
For his part, Abutbul took the high road, warning his citizens against a “civil war” (the term in Hebrew is “brotherly war” – milchemet achim).
“It’s a shame that some political entities who refuse to accept the voter’s decision and are dragging Beit Shemesh towards a civil war,” he said. However, he added that he intends “to obey whatever decision the court reaches.”
Mayor Abutbul is a member of Shas. His deputy-mayor, Shmuel Greenberg, is a member of United Torah Judaism (UTJ). In the previous elections, Abutbul was able to attract moderate Orthodox voters by promising: “Beit Shemesh is not a Haredi city and will not be one.” Haredi parties won 10 out of the 21-seat municipal councilin 2009.
The modern city of Beit Shemesh, Jerusalem’s neighbor to the west, was established in 1952, by immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Romania, Morocco and Iraqi Kurdistan. In the 1990s, the city experienced an influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia, and from North America, the UK, South Africa and Australia.
In 2011 Haredim made up 40% of the population, according to the municipality, and 63% of the city’s schoolchildren in 2010 were Haredim.
Disputes between Haredi and Modern Orthodox Jews in Beit Shemesh have been capturing headlines for at least a decade, with a general sense that Haredi militants have been increasing their influence in this once sleepy city.
According to Ha’aretz, the population of Beit Shemesh is expected to reach 150,000 in 2020.
Beit Shemesh rose to international notoriety during Chanuka 2011, with a TV documentary hosted by then TV journalist Yair Lapid. During the documentary, we are introduced to a very scared 7 year old girl, Naama Margolise, who refused to go to Orot girls school in Beit Shemesh, due her being harassed by extremist ultra-orthodox protesters (“Kanoim”).
In addition, we see a national religious woman being spat at by an extremist ultra-orthodox man.
The central issue in dispute during that period was the attempted land-grab at Orot School, a national religious designated girls school located on the seam between the national religious and ultra-orthodox communities, by a group of extremist Kanoim.
The image of Naama Margalit became a symbol, overnight, of the struggle for peaceful neighborly relations in Beit Shemesh, respect for the law, and against the alleged ‘free-hand’ policy of the city towards hundreds of out-of-control Kanoim extremists.
Almost exactly two years later, this week MK Moshe Gafni has called upon Yair Lapid, now Finance Minister, to apologise for the “anti-chareidi tirade” which, he claims, was based on a slanderous lie. According to Gafni, there never was a spitting incident.
Gafni said that the police had closed the file, and that Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich had stated this was because such a spitting incident never took place:
“Everyone knows that an Israeli political party was founded based on that spitting incident. One man made a television report of the incident on a Friday night, involving mass chilul Shabbos, and told all his viewers that a chareidi man spit at a girl in Beit Shemesh. We chareidi political representatives told whoever would listen that we do not believe the reports and that we never heard of such an awful thing happening.
“The incitement [against the entire chareidi community] that followed was terrible. Now it turns out that Yesh Atid [the political party of Treasury Minister Lapid] was founded based on a spitting incident that never existed. A chareidi did not spit. The Minister testified here in the Knesset plenum that no complaint was ever filed in the matter.
“I now expect that the one who prepared that report on Friday night, and is now the Treasury Minister, Yair Lapid, will come to the Knesset plenum and apologize. He should apologize to the chareidi community whom he turned into a society that spits at little girls. Let us see if Yair Lapid has the courage to ask for forgiveness.”
(Report by Eliezer Rauchberger in Yated Neeman)
The police reportedly closed the “spitting file” – and this has promoted the sudden flurry of activity from the ultra-orthodox political leadership,who are now claiming that their public has been finally vindicated.
It is important to clarify there were actually two incidents in the Lapid documentary (see full Channel Two documentary below) involving spitting/harassment in Beit Shemesh:
Case One: Na’ama Margalese – the iconic 7 year old, filmed being scared and refusing to go to school.
Case Two: Alisa Coleman – the modern orthodox woman seen being spat at by an ultra-orthodox man
Case 1 did not go to the police. Perhaps this was because the TV item was filmed several months after the traumatic events, or because it was unclear what those events were, or who the culprit was. When Interior Minister Aharonovich reported that there was no complaint received by the police, he is referring to this case.
Indeed, Minister Aharonovich stated in response to MK Moshe Gafni: “I did not say that such an incident did not occur. Only that the police never got a complaint in the matter.”
Case 2 was reported immediately to the police by Mrs. Coleman, and criminal charges were brought in court against an ultra-orthodox resident of Beit Shemesh. Although there is video of the incident, and numerous witnesses, the case has now been closed by the police. According to reports, this was due to the two sides deciding not to pursue the case further.
Mrs. Coleman said today that she has not been contacted by the court, nor was she a party to any agreement to not pursue the case further. She is now seeking an explanation from the state prosecution department “why they decided to drop such a cast iron case, which was so politically charged?”.
When asked to comment on this case, MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, whose political journey which brought him to the Knesset started with the Orot Girls School protests, stated:
“We have a clear video of a man spitting on a woman. The police didn’t say the spitting didn’t happen. They simply could not prove that the guy who they arrested for it did it. That is the entire story.
“This does not relate to the four months of assaults on little girls that we experienced and that were also caught on video.”
The protests and campaign during Chanuuka 2011 in Beit Shemesh was about the land-grab at the Orot school by extremist “Kanoim”, and the intolerable behaviour by Kanoim to other members of the Beit Shemesh community.
In conclusion, with the closing of the Case Two, the alleged spitting at a national religious woman by an ultra-orthodox man, the police have not “vindicated the ultra-orthodox public” who Moshe Gafni stated in the Knesset that he represents.
The police have closed a file on one individual, in unclear circumstances, which did not constitute vindication for this particular man, and certainly not for his colleagues, arguably a few hundred extremist “Kanoim”.
As for the “entire ultra-orthodox public”, to whom Yair Lapid apparently now owes an apology, the closing by the police of the Coleman spitting case is neither here nor there.
As far as I know, no one ever alleged that the “entire ultra-orthodox public” was guilty of spitting at Mrs. Coleman!
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has decided to appeal to the Jerusalem District Court for an order to annul last month’s disputed local elections in Beit Shemesh and to order a new vote.
He said that a police investigation of alleged fraudulent voting showed sufficient evidence to support charges that vote were cast by people who used identity cards of those out of the city or might not even be living. Shas Haredi religious incumbent Mayor Moshe Abutbul narrowly won the election, beating Jewish Home candidate Eli Cohen, who also is appealing to the court to cancel the election.
Police have said that their investigation has widened to include several people beyond those who were present at the raid of forged identify cards shortly before the election.
A police raid on two homes before the elections last month uncovered 250 false identification cards that people intended to use to cast extra ballots. Eight people were arrested, and police found several hats in the homes, indicating that people had intended to change their appearance to represent people who were not in the city at the time of the voting.
Supporters for Jewish Home candidate Cohen also accused Shas activists of throwing out some ballots that had been cast in favor of Cohen.
Israel Antiquities Authority excavations prior to the widening of a highway in Beit Shemesh, west of Jerusalem, have uncovered rare finds of a 6,000 year old cultic temple, the first 10,000 year old building to be discovered in the Judean plain and a nearby cluster of rare axes
The large excavation area will be open to the public on Wednesday.
Settlement remains were unearthed at the site, the earliest of which dates to the beginning of the eighth millennium BCE and latest to the end of the fourth millennium BCE.
The finds revealed at the site range from the period when man first started to domesticate plants and animals, instead of searching for them in the wild, until the period when of the beginnings of proper urban planning.
The oldest artifacts that were exposed at the site are ascribed to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period of approximately 10,000 years ago.
“This is the first time that such an ancient structure has been discovered in the Judean Shephelah (plain),” according to Drs. Amir Golani, Ya‘akov Vardi, and Ron Be’eri and Binyamin Storchan, excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority,
The building, almost all of which was found, underwent a number of construction and repair phases that offer evidence that whoever built the house did something that was totally innovative because up until this period man migrated from place to place in search of food.
The cluster of nine flint and limestone axes that were discovered lying side by side near the prehistoric make it “apparent that the axes, some of which were used as tools and some as cultic objects, were highly valued by their owner,” the archaeologists said.
“Just as today we are unable to get along without a cellular telephone and a computer, they too attributed great importance to their tool,” they added. “Based on how it was arranged at the time of its discovery, it seems that the cluster of axes was abandoned by its owner for some unknown reason,”
In the archaeological excavation conducted at Eshta’ol, an important and rare find from the end of the Chalcolithic period in the second half of the fifth millennium BCE was discovered in the adjacent area.
During the course of the excavation, 6,000-year-old buildings were exposed and a stone column was discovered alongside one of them. The standing stone is 1.30 meters (51 inches) high and weighs several hundred pounds.
“The standing stone was smoothed and worked on all six of its sides, and was erected with one of its sides facing east,” according to the excavation directors.”
“We uncovered a multitude of unique finds during the excavation,” said Dr. Amir Golani, one of the excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “The large excavation affords us a broad picture of the progression and development of the society in the settlement throughout the ages. Thus we can clearly see that in the Early Bronze Age, 5,000 years ago, the rural society made the transition to an urban society.
“We can see distinctly a settlement that gradually became planned, which included alleys and buildings that were extremely impressive from the standpoint of their size and the manner of their construction. We can clearly trace the urban planning and see the guiding hand of the settlement’s leadership that chose to regulate the construction in the crowded regions in the center of the settlement and allowed less planning along its periphery.
“It is fascinating to see how in such an ancient period a planned settlement was established in which there is orderly construction, and trace the development of the society which became increasingly hierarchical.”
Aerial view of excavations prior to widening the highway at Beit Shemesh,