Musings about the Upcoming Mayoral Elections

I had actually given some thought to the question of writing vs. not writing about the elections in my column, since there were people who had professed surprise, even disappointment, when I did so the last time around. I tried to understand “where they were coming from.” And I do think that I realize the gap in how we respectively view this column. I do not see this column as a parshas hashavua corner, with vertelach and nice thoughts on the weekly Torah reading. I had never conceived it that way, and I have never treated it that way. Therein lies the misunderstanding. This column is a platform that I was given to in order to speak to a tzibbur —namely, the tzibbur that chooses to read it. It is a place where I speak sometimes of hashkafah and discuss matters of halachah at others. Sometimes I address core concepts of Judaism, and at others —mussar. And yes, sometimes I deliver a Devar Torah on the Parshah, but hopefully, it is one with a message, not what I call a vertel. Thus, it makes perfect sense to me that if I think that I have an important message to get out to my tzibbur, the readers, then I will use this column to express it. This is my platform! And if some feel that the message resonates so powerfully that they want to expand the readership of the message —why should that bother me? If I write to five people, I try to write something as meaningful and as intelligent as if I would was writing for five thousand —so why should I be perturbed if five thousand really do see it?

I would like to extend a yeyasher kochachem to the Dati-Leumi Rabbanim of our community, who signed a letter urging their followers to vote for the candidate they felt would be the better one. Hopefully, I will no longer need to expend energy, time, kochos and effort explaining why Rabbanim absolutely should tell people for whom they think the people should vote. Our Torah is a Toras Chaim, and if their da’as Torah, or however they refer to it, leads them to a certain conclusion, they have a responsibility to lead their flocks. May they be role models in this path for their national party, or parties, as well!

I would like to address past and would-be Eli Cohen voters.

The virtually unanimous consensus among commentators, and I am limiting myself to secular and Dati-Leumi commentators, is that the court ruling calling for these new elections had nothing to do with fraud and everything to do with keeping the city out of the hands of Chareidim. Here are some choice paragraphs written about the court decision by famous Israeli commentator:

“The court’s decision to require new elections is out of the norm; the issue of fraud was hardly serious enough to require new elections… (The real issue is) the struggle for the soul of the city… for lately, extremists have moved into the city. Eli Cohen is Beit Shemesh’s last hope to prevent its falling into the clutches of anti-Zionists… It is unclear if he will be able to turn the clock back, even were he to win the next elections; the State has abandoned the city and its non-Chareidi residents… (Nachum Barnea, Yediot Acharonot)

“The real battle is the one between the secular, Zionist residents and the Chareidim. It is the battle of the rule of law and the forces of light against law-breakers and the forces of darkness.” (Dan Margalit, Yisrael Hayom)

“It is difficult to exaggerate the consequences of a victory for the Chareidi candidate. The City’s character will be irrevocably set, and the end will near for all of the city’s secular residents, as well as its image as a pluralistic city.” (Nir Chasoon, Ha’aretz)

“Some amounts of fraud are present in every election. It is relatively easy to pick on Chareidim. In Beit Shemesh especially, it is clear to all non-Chareidim that the Chareidim must lose the election, because Beit Shemesh as a Zionistic city must be preserved. And so it was almost pre-ordained that this would be the first-ever experiment in nullifying an election because of fraud.” (Kalman Liebskind, Mekor Rishon)

And here is a headline from Mekor Rishon, not of an Editorial, but of a news item:

“Beit Shemesh To Have New Elections! Eli Cohen, the Candidate of all the Non-Chareidim, Will Once Again Attempt To Win The Mayoralty. Can He Prevent The Votes Of the Dead And The Terror of the Chareidim? And Once And For All, Will He End the Darkness in Beit Shemesh?”

Rabbosai – the level of this stuff makes Chadash seem like the Wall Street Journal!

I turn to Eli Cohen voters, and I ask you: perhaps you think that Mr. Cohen would make a better Mayor. Frankly, I do not see why you would think so, as I explained before the last elections, but I assume that you do.

But sometimes, Rabbosai, there are larger issues concerning something, issues which dwarf more limited concerns, important as they may appear. Read the above commentators’ comments. These are the opinion- makers in Israel today. And please ask yourselves, “Do I want to give a hand to those who are battling Chareidim, so that my garbage will be collected in a timelier manner? Especially given what is going on at the national level!? Do I want to contribute to that, albeit unintentionally?

[Obviously, if you agree with the sentiments of these commentators, I am not addressing you. One day, though, I will try to show you that Chareidim are people too and, to paraphrase Shakespeare:

I am a Chareidi. Hath not a Chareidi eyes? Hath not a Chareidi hands,
organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same
food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases,
heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter
and summer, as a non-Chareidi is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If
you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?

To which I add: May not a Chareidi vote? May we not win elections? Does democracy end at the door of a Chareidi? Are Chareidim not allowed to have political opinions and to vote accordingly? May every community vote its interests, but not Chareidim?]

The above-mentioned Kalman Liebskind headlined his column in last Friday’s Maariv newspaper:

“The Chareidim Are Correct! There Was No Reason To Invalidate the Beit Shemesh Elections!”

Following an introduction, in which he identifies himself as someone who definitely hopes that Eli Cohen wins the upcoming elections, and after establishing his credentials as the first investigative reporter to report that there was fraud in the previous election, he goes on to write a lengthy analysis of the court decision. He sifted through hundreds of pages of all the testimonies, all of the police reports, and cross-examination of the witnesses and those suspected of fraud. And his conclusion?

“I have reached a painful, difficult, conclusion. It is important that I write it here, due to my earlier columns on this subject. The court verdict cancelling the elections is one of the strangest legal documents I have seen in years. The three judges have collected an unprecedented amount of speculations and unproven assumptions on the road to their verdict. We are talking about a verdict with no legal proof backing it. Although there undoubtedly were some fraudulent votes, the amount did not come close to justifying the extreme step of nullification of the election.”

(RCZM-I urge you to get this column and to read it in its entirety, even though it is long, analytical, and very, very detailed. And frightening.)

His last sentence It is hard to believe that there is another community other than a Chareidi one concerning which a court would find itself so free as to cancel an election victory on such a flimsy basis.”

What is my point? It is actually different than the previous one. It concerns the dangers we all face if we quietly aid, abet, and allow judicial tyranny, imperiousness, and high-handedness. Maybe today you are delighted that the court did this. However, are you thinking about the future, when the courts might overturn other election results that you are happy about, yet it flies in the face of the Judges’ own personal opinions? Perhaps you think, “It could not happen in such a case!” Well, once it has happened once, there is no reason to think it will not happen again. But next time, it might be your ox that is being gored. Maybe an internal Likud election; maybe a referendum about giving away Eretz Yisrael; maybe a law about dividing Yerushalayim; maybe a law about giving terrorists’ families Bitu’ach Leumi payments; maybe there will be a penalty imposed upon you for having an avirah in your home of wanting to build an illegal extension. According to Mr. Liebskind, the court fiat overturning the Beit Shemesh elections was no less fantastic than any of the above scenarios. Once you let a court rule arbitrarily, the very opposite of the rule of law, it is very hard to put the genie back in the bottle. Unless this court decision is repudiated, it may very well come back to haunt those who are elated by it.

A troubling point. There were at least someziyufimthis seems clear. Shouldn’t that trouble us (the Chareidi community)? Does it trouble us? Moreover, if not, why not? Do we casually accept some dishonesty? Why are we sanguine about ‘some ziyufim?’ What does that say about us? This is troubling, and I will im yirtzeh Hashem deal with these questions in a future article.

One last point, if I may. It has occurred to me that Beit Shemesh might very well be a microcosm of the country, but in reverse! Meaning, while in most of the country Chareidim feel beset upon, discriminated against and deprived of rights accorded to other citizens, in Beit Shemesh it is actually the Dati-Leumi community which seems to feel that its city was ‘stolen’ from them, and that their community was not given the rights and benefits accorded to Chareidim under Mayor Abutbul’s administration. This has unfortunately exacerbated tensions that exist.

If we can set aside trying to prove or disprove this opinion, I wish to reiterate what I said in my last Open Letter: If Mayor Abutbul wins reelection, I stand ready to work with any responsible Rav who feels that his community was, or is being, disenfranchised, and to use whatever influence I have to attempt to redress any imbalance which may exist.

Let us all hope and pray that this month of Adar II bring about a change from anger to good will; from apprehension to confidence; and from machlokes to Shalom, Amen!

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