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Upset in Beit Shemesh

Eliezer Shulman

The margin was razor thin — just 533 votes

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Thirty-five kilometers away from Jerusalem in Beit Shemesh, the chareidi incumbent mayor, Moshe Abutbul, was defeated by a national-religious candidate, Aliza Bloch. The margin was razor thin — just 533 votes. While Bloch’s supporters explained her victory as a rebuke to a mayor who failed to provide basic city services, Abutbul offered a different explanation in an interview with Mishpacha.

“This is the price of complacency,” said Abutbul, a Shas candidate who served for ten years. “I can give you lots of explanations for why we lost and failed, but the truth is that it looked like I had broad support in the city. People didn’t go vote. The results were commensurate.”

Shortly after her victory, Bloch announced her intention to use a $100 million Interior Ministry allotment that goes to new city administrations to fund projects to beautify Beit Shemesh. Over the last ten years, the city has seen explosive growth, expanding from a population of 72,000 in 2008 to over 114,000 in 2017. Along the way, Beit Shemesh has added a number of neighborhoods, areas that have by and large been inhabited by English-speaking and Israeli-born chareidim. But many residents complained that existing neighborhoods had suffered as a result of the rapid expansion. Bloch’s announcement indicates she intends to stop or slow new construction in the city, now Israel’s 15th-largest urban area.

But before Bloch can implement any of her plans, she has to form a functioning coalition on the city council. Last week’s election left the chareidi parties with 12 out of 21 seats on the city council. At first, it seemed they would form an obstructionist bloc to stymie Bloch’s agenda. But Bloch’s announcement to invest in the city has softened the opposition. Even within the chareidi wing, there are many who believe that the city needs new school buildings and other infrastructure improvements.

Those who advocate an obstructionist bloc, however, claim that it’s impossible to slow the construction boom. They note that contracts to build thousands of housing units have already been signed and construction has begun on multiple projects. Therefore, they insist, the council must stay its course and prioritize building. As of this writing, this camp is gaining strength.

As for Abutbul, he is considering retiring from politics altogether. “After 25 years representing the community in the Beit Shemesh municipality, ten of them as mayor, I’m interested in resigning from the city council and entering other fields,” he said. However, he has been instructed by Rav Shalom Cohen to stay in his position until a coalition is formed. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 734)

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