Author: Etti Ben Ami Suissa

(Translation: Barbara Solomon-Brown)

Is Beit Shemesh a City Divided Into Two? Is there a Religious War going on, or not? The Age Old Question of What Came First - The Chicken or the Egg"?

As a resident of the City of Beit Shemesh, I don't really know what started the large gap between the sectors of its populations. We are presently witnessing something painful - the City is dividing into two sectors: Zionist and Charedi.

What is the definition of Zionist and what is the definition of Charedi, and is it dependent upon whom you ask? In addition to these questions, there are other sectors within the society such as; Tradtional, Zionist Charedi (A.K.A. Charda"l), National Religious, Atheists, Secularists and others who define themselves otherwise. 

Beit Shemesh historically experienced good times, during which its elders with tell you about the times of "Ahavat Chinam" or loving each other simply "because", times of mutual assistance, tolerance, solidarity, good neighbors. One example of this is when  Beit Shemesh residents were very proud of local home bred Beit Shemesh "stars" of popular reality shows, when a local won the Israel National Prize of Recognition for Bible Studies, when locals "made waves" in well known national sporting events,  in local and familial celebrations and in sadly, local and familial moments of mourning.  In spite of demographic developments of the city, "Old Beit Shemesh" - the original sections of Beit Shemesh (where many of its original inhabitants resided and still live ) still shares the personal warmth and caring between its residents as always characterized the City of Beit Shemesh - during both Good and  Bad Times.

In the 2008 elections, when Moshe Abutbol was voted in as the Mayor of Beit Shemesh, there was a general feeling of Hope. Mr. Abutbol's Campaign slogan was "Let the Citizens Win"! This motto exuded cooperation, a listening ear and the involvement of the "little guy" to help set the public agenda in all municipal affairs.

The large split began when decisions regarding the building in Ramat Beit Shemesh Gimmel were to be made. Without delving into many (presently known to the public) facts, a large gap began to widen and grown deeper. This was made evident by actions of those voted in to run the city. Someone at City Hall and its representatives seemed to forget about "bringing the People closer". There were efforts to build bridges by people (from different sectors) actually speaking with one and other (at round table events for example), but it was becoming more and more difficult to quiet down the larger  clashes due to events taking place in the city.

In fact, the gaps became larger and more powerful as one item after another  rose to the fore: The story of the little girl Naama Margolis being spat upon outside of her National Religious school put Beit Shemesh in a very negative ىpotlight, the "Taliban Mother" in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Demonstrations, Separate Sidewalks (for men and women) in certain neighborhoods, Separate (male and female) seating on local buses,  and other incidences that simply strengthened the words and concept of "Us versus Them", and "You and Us".

The most recent elections elevated and even radicalized the feelings of frustration amongst many sectors of residents of Beit Shemesh. 

After the recent elections (2013)  the widening gap between the populations became very evident during the large demonstration at Naimi Square, when placards stated things like: "our City was Stolen from Us", "We Are Not Giving Up Beit Shemesh", and "Abutbol is Not my Mayor". The "Zionist Candidate" , Eli Cohen, testified at the Interior Committee of the Knesset  that he had experienced character defamation from Mayro Abutbul's hostile public relations campaign .

On the other side, the "elected" Mayor, Moshe Abutbol doesn't seem to comprehend the definition of the word "Zionist".  Though he served in the Israel Defense Forces and pays taxes to the Government of Israel, eh ridiculed his opponent, Eli Cohen, at the  Shas party campaign meeting by asking, "Does working at Mekorot [the National Water Carrier where his political opponent Eli Cohen is an Upper Manager] fit into the definition of being a Zionist"? 

Surrounding Mr. Abutbol we continue to hear the mantra that the "Judiciary System in Israel is Against Charedim", that "the Court's Decision for Repeat Elections in Beit Shemesh are a means of twisting Justice to benefit the Zionist Bloc". One person  claimed that the judicial system in Israel treats Arabs and Hareidim alike.

Eli Cohen made an effort to break into closed Charedi circles, and try to be heard by being interviewed on a Charedi radio show. He received what could only be referred to as a boldly obvious stance (in support of his opponent, Mr. Abutbol) by the interviewers. The Abutbol milieu like to say that the local press does not make their lives easy [although ads by Mr. Abutbol have regularly been printed in the non-Charedi press - BSB], while the Charedi press refuses to publish paid ads from Eli Cohen.

Beit Shemesh has witnessed and apparently will again see how many will always find ways to whitewash  ways of some achieving goals and stopping others from achieving theirs.

One major fault the City of Beit Shemesh has had in the past 5 years is in the area of Public Relations.

The concept of Tolerance has seemingly disappeared and "each man does as he pleases" seems to be the word of the day.

It will be tough to shrink the gaps, and we are witnessing them widening. The elections have elicited strong emotions. Candidates are aiming their campaigns towards their traditional voters while trying at the same time, to widen their aim at sectors with additional potential voters.

The Charedi Bloc Supports Moshe Abutbol, the Zionist Bloc Supports Eli Cohen -Where is the Bridge?

Less than 20 days of campaign "work" remain for the two camps. The public relations and the campaigns will not be the strong points of this battle. Missing will be the budgets and financial backing of political parties (although efforts are being made to sway the Knesset decision to provide financial support to these Repeat Elections). All of the candidates understand that the name of the game in these elections are Getting The Voters Out on March 11, 2014! This is One thing in this Election that has a Consensus from all sides.

Let us hope that the City of Beit Shemesh has not reached the Point of No Return. 

Translation done by Barbara Solomon-Brown BSW/MSW
Barbara Brown is a local business owner (Aliyah121 Private Assistance Services for Older Olim & Their Families, and Geriatrics) in Beit Shemesh and is a Community Activist. 

Translator's note: When I was asked if I could translate this (Hebrew) article into English, it was evident that this article had come my way through what we would called being "bashert" or providential. I recently wrote a "Beit Shemesh Elections:Isareli Democracy or Constructive Conflict". The Link is:  Please read it and let me hear your comments. Share it with others.

I am an Optimistic Lover of Tzion - Eretz Ahm VeTorat Yisrael. As my blog states - I am always am a believer in Hatikva - The Hope that Beit Shemesh will hopefully be a Test Case not only for Israeli Democracy, but also, for having Some Conflict become Constructive between us Residents.