The Administrative Court ordered Tuesday to hold new elections in Beit Shemesh,
due to evidence of fraud and irregularities discovered in the October municipal elections
in which Moshe Abutbul won reelection.
The city council elections will be repeated as well. "A heavy shadow is cast over the elections in Beit Shemesh," the court said.
Attorney Ilan Bombach, representing the Deputy Mayor Meir Belaish, said in response: "We are studying the ruling. On the surface, it appears that the ruling deviates from the settled case law. We will almost certainly appeal to the Supreme Court."
Chairman Knesset Member Aryeh Deri
was more decisive: "After reading the verdict and consulting with legal officials, we decided to appeal the ruling."
Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
The appeal to the election results in Beit Shemesh was filed by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and the secular candidate Eli Cohen, who lost the election by a margin of less than a thousand votes.
The court ordered Tuesday to annul the election results from October and thus also ordered to hold new elections.
The judges wrote in their ruling that "elections are perceived as a celebration of democracy, and rightly so, but the extensive evidence brought to our attention unfortunately paints a dire picture. The deficiencies discussed at length in the verdict are severe."
The court further stated that there was a widespread phenomenon in Beit Shemesh of imposters using others' ID cards. The court added that the evidence indicates systematic and organized activity behind the forgeries.
It was further determined that this is not a sporadic or individual activity, but one that is related to political activists. Its goal was to secure Abutbul's reelection and the election of his list "Koach" to the city council. However, the Court noted, they received no evidence or claims related to the involvement of Abutbul himself to the matter.
Among the evidence specified by the court were text messages sent around the time of the police raid on apartments in Beit Shemesh, including texts such as: "Has the round ended? Do you need more guys?" These were shortly followed by: "We've been caught. Get more guys here urgently."
According to the judges, the incidents were initiated by an extensive network of residents who abstained from voting for ideological reasons. "The execution of the organized activity depended on a structured mechanism, personnel and operational measures. Citizens who were considered as the target audience for passing on their ID cards regarded the existence of the activity as an open secret," the judges said.
On the other hand, newly reelected Mayor Moshe Abutbul argued through his attorney Jacob Weinroth that there was no real evidence to his accusation and that in any event, the State must prove, under law, that enough votes were forged to tilt the election results.
Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri could not hide his displeasure upon hearing the court's ruling. "It's a shame that the honorable court decided to adhere to campaigns from the media and cancel the democratic decision of the people of Beit Shemesh," said MK Deri Thursday. He further told of his decision to appeal the ruling.
Following the decision, a handful of residents gathered to celebrate at the municipality's building. They sang "Do not give up on Beit Shemesh" and cars passing by honked in solidarity.
Many residents in the city shared Deri's sentiments. Shlomo, an ultra-Orthodox resident, told Ynet: "The court proved again that it habitually rules against the ultra-Orthodox community. This ruling lacks any kind of logic, but since ultra-Orthodox residents are involved — it is not doubted. I am sure that in the new elections Abutbul will be reelected by a landslide and the number of ultra-Orthodox council members will grow."
Eli Cohen, the candidate for the city's secular and modern orthodox communities, said upon hearing the decision: "Justice, democracy and the honest norm have prevailed."
"It's been a rough road, and now, for all residents of Beit Shemesh, we must leave the past behind and work together towards the future of the city. I believe in unity and mutual respect. I will do anything to help settle the bad blood between the sectors, and approach together a proper and organized democratic procedure. Hopefully the other side has done away with their ways of hate and incitement.
Noam (Dabul) Dvir and Kobi Nachshoni contributed to this report.
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