Beit Shemesh - Non-Haredi Parties Unite To Defeat Ultra-Orthodox Mayor
Beit Shemesh - The Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi parties have come together in Beit Shemesh to run Aliza Bloch, a unity candidate, against incumbent Shas Mayor Moshe Abutbol in the upcoming October municipal elections.
Bloch announced her candidacy on Wednesday morning during a press conference attended by Yesh Atid MK and local resident Dov Lipman, as well as Bayit Yehudi leader and cabinet minister Naftali Bennett.
Abutbol has been a polarizing figure in Beit Shemesh. He came under criticism last year for his handling of haredi extremists’ attacks on schoolgirls from the Orot Banot school.
Lipman rose to prominence as one of the primary opponents of Abutbol at the time, organizing rallies against the mayor, who he said was soft on the growing extremism in the city.
According to Bloch’s campaign, both the Likud and Hatnua parties have endorsed Bloch, whom Lipman billed as a unifying figure. The current front-runner among the opposition candidates is Eli Cohen, a former senior administrator at the Jewish Agency who is running as an independent.
The political weight that the parties have thrown behind Bloch – the principal of the local Branco Weiss school – is indicative of just how much Beit Shemesh has become an emblem of the fault lines between secular and ultra-Orthodox.
Violent incidents by extremist “Yerushalmi” sect members against those they deem to be dressed in an immodest fashion; well-publicized incidents of women being made to sit at the back of buses; signs calling for women not to walk in front of synagogues; and the presence of the burka-clad ultra-Orthodox “Taliban women” have all contributed to a negative public image that residents feel has impacted them.
Speaking at the press conference Wednesday morning, Lipman said that voters were “thirsty for a mayor who will unify the city and will truly serve as a mayor for all the city’s citizens and populations.”
“I am proud to stand here as the representative of Yesh Atid and am so happy that we will be running on a joint Bayit Yehudi-Yesh Atid list for city council with Aliza heading the list,” he declared. “I am so happy to see the Likud and Hatnua here as well in support of this candidacy.
We have all worked together over the last few years in dealing with more negative situations, and today we begin a new path, working together to save our city and help it reach its remarkable potential.”
Lipman told The Jerusalem Post that negotiations among the various parties backing Bloch had gone quickly and that she was able to “offer the various parties what they were seeking in terms of influence in the new government.”
According to Lipman, Bayit Yehudi and Yesh Atid are “trying to work together on a municipal level wherever possible.”
While the two parties entered the governing coalition together with the intention of pushing for policies unpopular among the ultra-Orthodox population – such as a mandatory universal draft that includes yeshiva students – the Beit Shemesh elections will serve as a litmus test for whether the two factions can push their agenda on a local level as well.
Beit Shemesh has everything it needs to be both “prosperous” and a “center of culture,” Bloch said during the press conference, pointing to the city’s diverse population of Russians, Ethiopians, Americans and other groups.
Beit Shemesh, she said, can serve as a “national model of how a large variety” of groups can “live together.”
In a veiled jab at Abutbol, whose opponents have accused him of representing only a narrow sectorial interest, Bloch said that she believed in “unity and not division.”
Bennett agreed, saying that Beit Shemesh should be a “leading city” and that Bloch was a “candidate for all.”
Warning that there was “little time,” Bennett said that anyone who wanted Beit Shemesh to become a “symbol of unity” – in which secular and religious, Ashkenazi and Sephardi could live together – must act now.
The city, he said, could become a symbol of the “integration of the secular and religious and the return of the Jewish soul to the State of Israel.”
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