Beit Shemesh mayoral vote voided due to fraud

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A Jerusalem court voided the results of municipal elections in Beit Shemesh over fraud accusations, paving the way for a rematch between a secular challenger and the haredi Orthodox incumbent.

The Jerusalem District Court’s decision on Thursday came after the results of the Oct. 22 election were challenged by Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and losing candidate Eli Cohen, who was backed in the election by the city’s Modern Orthodox and secular communities.

Haredi Orthodox Mayor Moshe Abutbul, who had won the election by 956 votes, said he would challenge the court’s decision. He has 45 days to file an appeal with the Supreme Court. According to law, elections must be held within 120 days of the court’s ruling or after appeals have been exhausted.

Abutbul supporters are alleged to have voted multiple times, paid voters to cast ballots for Abutbul and facilitated fraudulent voter registration.

Beit Shemesh, a city of 80,000 near Jerusalem, has been the site of sometimes violent clashes between haredi Orthodox extremists and non-haredim. Additional police were sent to Beit Shemesh on Thursday following the court decision in anticipation of rioting.

In July, a group of haredi men reportedly smashed the windows of a bus after a woman refused to move to the back. The following month, police arrested 14 haredi rioters who blocked a major street and set trash bins on fire to protest construction at a Beit Shemesh site that once may have been a burial ground.

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