Less than a week since the municipal elections and there is mounting evidence of election fraud in Beit Shemesh, the daily Maariv reports.
According to the official results, the incumbent, Shas-affiliated Mayor Moshe Abutbul won with 50.5% of the vote, defeating Likud candidate Eli Cohen who received 47.86%. In terms of votes, Abutbul received 17,665 votes and Cohen 16,741 votes, with a mere 924 votes separating them.
Some of Maariv’s investigatory evidence includes one Beit Shemesh polling station that counted more envelopes at day’s end than registered voters for that polling station. In other cases chareidim tried to vote with teudat zehut identity cards that were not their own. In some polling stations poll watchers reported they were suspicious of more than a few chareidim because they were not convinced that their identity cards were legitimate.
Maariv explains most of their witnesses prefer to remain anonymous for now, some fearing for their safety while others believe a police investigation will follow and revealing their names may compromise the integrity of that investigation. However poll watcher Reuven Harow, who was stationed in a voting station in Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, which he explains is mostly chareidi, was willing to reveal his identity. He tells of one young chareidi male who arrived early in the day to vote. He gave in his ID card and went behind the screen to vote. The polling officials felt something was wrong but they could not put their finger on it as they passed his ID card to one another for another look. When the young man came back they asked him his mother’s name and he responded correctly. When they asked him “how old are you” he response “27” but his ID card says 24. The ID also showed he has two daughters so they asked the names of the girls. He did not know how to respond. The photo was also showing a blonde male, far lighter than the young man’s hair color. They told him he cannot vote and returned his IDF card. Reuven questions why police weren’t summoned for he believes this may have been a criminal offense, but the responsible officials simply rejected his envelopes and sent him on his way.
Yud was a deputy polling station manager in the Menucha V’Nachlah chareidi area. He reports there were numerous questionable incidents but the best was near day’s end when a voter presented an ID card that was at least 20 years old. It was impossible to verify the voter’s identity from the old faded photo. He was behind the screen for a long time Yud explains, adding “when he came out I asked him to name his children. He knew the first two but then began to stutter as it was clear he did not know”. The head of that voting station, a member of a local chassidus began shouting at Yud “leave him alone. I know him”. The voter took advantage of the incident and left the ID card and fled the polling station. The ID card was given to police to follow up.
Yossi Korem told another story. He was the head of a polling station in the Cheftziba neighborhood of the city. A chareidi female arrived in the afternoon to vote. It became apparent to officials that she had voted earlier, using a different ID card. One of the poll watchers remembered her from earlier and alerted the others. When she was asked she insisted that she had not voted again. Poll watchers admit the photo in her ID card was similar, but add her head covering made a positive ID impossible.
They began asking her questions. When asked her date of birth she responded “around Adar”. She did not know the names of her children. Police took her for questioning and it was learned that this was indeed her second vote for the day.
A half hour following that incident police raided the two apartments on Ohr Somayach Street in the Kirya Chareidis. Some 200 forged identity cards were recovered along with equipment to produce forgeries. While some of the suspects were arrested, about 15 people escaped using windows in the apartments. In a later incident, police apprehended 31 identity cards.
Shlomo Engelberg was a poll watcher in Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet and reports the day was uneventful. He adds most voters were chareidi and he was the only one there with a kippa sruga. Shlomo explains at the end of the day they counted the envelopes for the mayoral vote and the numbered 265, in line with the number of voters that day. When they counted the ballots for city council they found 300, 35 more than the number of people who voted at that station. Shlomo explains some of the officials tried playing down the significance of the discrepancy but he would not hear of it. He explains the appropriate election committee officials were informed and he hasn’t a clue what happened after notification was made.
A, a Beit Shemesh City Hall official was responsible for a number of polling stations. He explains that in one of the polling stations the deputy was a chareidi affiliated with Shas to the best of his memory. He cites that he was summoned to that polling station amid complains the Shas deputy head of the station was spending too much time behind the voting screen despite the fact the law prohibits him from being behind the screen alone. He was ousted from the polling station and police were summoned. Police checked his pockets and found many voting ballot slips and an unspecified number of ballot envelopes. He told police it was for his children to play with, nothing more.
In other cases, registered voters arrived at polling stations only to learn someone had already voted in their name. This was the case with Aleph, a 36-year-old who has lived in the city his entire life. Aleph waited there for 90 minutes until senior officials decided what to do. They permitted him to vote.
Y, a young lady who arrived at the polling station in the Givat Sharret School was equally surprised when she was told “you voted already” for she had not. Then came the argument and eventually, she was permitted to vote.
Bet, a young lady who studies in Yerushalayim arrived towards the end of the voting, after school. She reported to a polling station in Rama Bet, only to learn she too had voted already when in reality, she hadn’t. She explained she had been in school all day and it was not possible, adding she traveled to Beit Shemesh just to vote and was not about to walk away without voting. Fortunately, one of the officials was a teacher of hers who confirmed the young lady hadn’t voted. When Bet would not acquiesce, they permitted her to vote.
Investigators are now probing a mysterious phone poll that was held 48 hours before elections in the city. The callers did not identify who was taking the poll, which is the norm. Some of the residents admit taking part in that poll, adding they told callers they will be abroad on Election Day and cannot vote. It is now feared that this poll was conducted just for that purpose, to determine who would not be able to vote and have someone vote in their place.
It appears that non-chareidi residents of Beit Shemesh are not about to accept the outcome of the election and it is entirely possible that the results will be challenged in a court of law.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)