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Beit Shemesh mayoral race reflects city's haredi, secular conflicts
Torn city showcases tight, crucial race for office, reflecting internal conflicts between secular, haredi Jews; national polling turnout low
A sign that was plastered around Beit Shemesh in preparation for Israel's municipal election may well contain the gist of the city's turbulent elections in one sentence: "Polling stations will be available to women from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm," the sign read. "Men will vote from 4:00 pm onward."

 

The sign's authenticity has already been questioned – haredi residents claim secular provocateurs fabricated it to create hype around Tuesday's municipal election. Either way, Beit Shemesh is, without a doubt, in the midst of a tight fight for mayoral success that holds within it the innate impasse between the city's secular residents and its haredi ones.

 

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According to assessments, 45% of Beit Shemesh residents are haredim, some of whom anti-Zionists.

 

Abutbul in Beit Shemesh (Photo: Yisrael Yosef)  (Photo: Yisrael Yosef)
Abutbul in Beit Shemesh (Photo: Yisrael Yosef)

 

Cohen in Beit Shemesh (Photo: Yuval Chen) (Photo: Yuval Chen)
Cohen in Beit Shemesh (Photo: Yuval Chen)

 

Municipal elections in Beit Shemesh (Photo: Yuval Chen)  (Photo: Yuval Chen)
Municipal elections in Beit Shemesh (Photo: Yuval Chen)

 

Beit Shemesh's current mayor, Shas' Moshe Abutbul, drew criticism when he didn't respond to violence from extremist factions. Moderate religious and secular residents are running almost unanimously behind one candidate – Eli Cohen.

 

Following public outrage Abutbul raised when he remained apathetic when an extremist haredi spat on a girl he considered to be "immodest", moderate and secular resistance in the city grew. "We won't forget how he spat on our children until violence from extremists became a norm here," said a young activist who supports Cohen outside a polling station.

 

"All this spitting does not at all reflect life in this city," said an Abutbul supporter. "Anyone who says these extremists get support from a Shas mayor is speaking nonsense. Beit Shemesh has become a symbol for the fight between secular and haredi people just because of the media."

 

With a 45% voter turnout registered at 7:00 pm Tuesday, the call is close in Beit Shemesh. Meanwhile, the national voter turnout remains low, which may majorly affect results.

 

31.% in Tel Aviv; 35.89% in Jerusalem

The low turnout of voters in the two main cities – Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – established the race for office as unexpected.

 

Ron Huldai in Tel Aviv (Photo: Moti Kimchi)  (Photo: Moti Kimchi)
Ron Huldai in Tel Aviv (Photo: Moti Kimchi)

 

Nir Barkat (Photo: PR)  (Photo: PR)
Nir Barkat (Photo: PR)

 

Moshe Leon in Jerusalem (Phoho: Gil Yohanan)  (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Moshe Leon in Jerusalem (Phoho: Gil Yohanan)

 

In the capital, where Nir Barkat and Moshe Leon are running for mayor, 35.89% of registered voters exercised their right to vote. In Jerusalem's haredi neighborhoods, voter turnout was 70%, whereas ballot polls in secular neighborhoods saw 30-50% turnout. Voting rates among east Jerusalem's Arab residents were lower than 1%.

 

In Tel Aviv, voting rate was at 31% as the polls closed. Voter turnout in Beersheba was 39.8% and in Haifa 45%.

 

Nationally, the general voting rate improved towards the evening at 42.6%, a 10% leap from the 7:00 pm results. Interior Minister Sa'ar assessed that the national voting rate will be similar to that of 2008, when it stood at 51.8%.

 

Moran Azulay, Elior Levy, Itamar Fleishman, Yoav Zitun, Ilana Curiel, Shahar Chai, Gilad Morag, Ahiya Raved, Itay Blumenthal, Hasan Shaalan, and Noam (Dabul) Dvir contributed to this article

 

 

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