These are not terms one would associate with Torah or Judaism. And yet, these were the main elements of the incumbant mayoral campaign of Bet Shemesh. The religious, charedi incumbent mayor of Bet Shemesh.
Politics are dirty, no doubt. Rare is the campaign that is squeaky clean. But when a campaign – and the resulting elections- run by “Torah Jews’ are characterized by some of the worst sins enumerated in the Torah- there is something very very wrong.
It started with defamation and slander of the opponent, Eli Cohen. Outright lies were told: that Eli would destroy the Jewishness of the city, that he planned to run buses and open stores on Shabbat, that he was supported by and answered to Yair Lapid whose name the Haredi community see as synonymous with persecution.
In this ad children weep behind barbed wire in a clear usage of Holocaust imagery to depict the persecution that would happen under Eli. This is juxtaposed with blessing and praise for Abutbol using the very words used for God in the Kadish prayer!
Over the weeks, the city was trashed with flyers and stank of slander. The fear mongering worked and so did the lies. The Haredi men and women I spoke to honestly believed that Eli planned to create a city free of Haredim. And really, who could blame them because who would imagine that Torah Jews would outright LIE and slander other Jews? In print, on the radio, anywhere and everywhere, the lies were repeated and spread like wildfire.
Step one was creating fear. Step two was relying on the community’s religious beliefs to get them to do as they were told. In essence, they were treated as sheep.
Add to fear religious injunction and you’ve won the votes of those who trust anyone claiming to speak in the name of Torah. The main rabbinical declaration of the campaign stated that supporting Abutbol and his party was a religious obligation and that not voting, or voting for someone else was a sin.
One sign even instructed the public to use “all means possible” to influence people to vote for Abutbol and his party. Rabbis of congregations called on their congregants to vote for Abutbol including one ‘Rabbi’ who called those who supported Eli ‘useful idiots’ and in general was disdainful of anyone not in their ‘camp’. Religious schools (illegally) campaigned for Abutbol.
In an extremely disturbing example of win at any cost, in the process of claiming to give honor to Torah leaders, they actually disgraced a Torah leader. In this video, you see representatives of Chen Chareidi (Degel HaTorah) party, manipultaing Rav Shteinman to travel from Bnei Brak to Bet Shemesh to rally on behalf of the incumbent mayor Moshe Abutbul. Rav Shteinman clearly does not want to go. But they press further and lie to Rav Shteinman to convince him to attend the rally. They told Rav Shteinman that Eli Cohen is together “with Lapid”. They continue to lie and pound away about Eli being secular until, in the end (not shown) Rav Shteinman agreed to come. What were they thinking to do this? What justified their deceit of a revered scholar and old man?
Supporters fed off of this atmosphere of the ends justifying the means and screams of ‘Nazi’ could be heard. Children sneered and called others names, learning from the despicable behavior of their elders. When Eli visited certain areas, he wasn’t even allowed to speak before he was turned away. Property was destroyed- even on Shabbat. Signs went up saying “Truly religious people vote Abutbol”.
Ads featured the recently departed Torah giant, Rav Ovadiya claiming that he would be with you behind the voting curtain and would know if you didn’t vote for Abutbol. What a horrific and cynical use of people’s respect for a man.
Come election day, this divided and mistrustful community went to vote. And then the real crimes began.
Representatives of the Interior Ministry explained that many yeshiva students who live in other cities, tried to illegally change their addresses to Bet Shemesh in order to vote here. ID cards of people not in the country were found being used to vote (eight people arrested). People who showed up to vote were told that they had already voted. Ballots for Eli were vandalized and rendered unusable, stolen, or surreptitiously marked and thus the votes were thrown out (about 600).
People tried to vote twice or more.
People reported being bribed to vote for Abutbol.
All of the above occurred in the campaign which claimed to run according to Daas Torah (the concept that a Rabbinical advice should be followed on all aspects of life). The anything goes attitude was heard and followed.
The election ended with less than a thousand votes crowning Abutbol as the mayor.
The results are being contested. The residents are protesting.
But regardless of what happens, the problem is much larger than Bet Shemesh.
Politics and religion do not mix. No one, no ethical person, no one who loves and reveres Judaism and Torah, should countenance what went on here.
The Torah world needs to take an honest look at what happens when religion and politics mix and just how it came to be that some of those who claim to stand for Torah are in fact trouncing on it and shredding its good name.