By Shmuel Katz
It’s election season for you in the U.S. You’ve got the midterm elections coming up in about a month, and all the talking heads are busy predicting this and that. The Kavanaugh circus has shown how the Republicans are immoral and out of touch with “the people,” and will end up being a major cause of decisive victories in the midterms. It has exposed the Democrats’ lack of moral fiber and willingness to leverage innocent people to further their own political needs and will end up being a major cause that voters stick with them in the midterms. Yin and yang.
It’s kind of entertaining to watch from here. As I’ve said before, I’ve become a one-issue voter in American elections (yes, we still vote absentee). I try to cast my vote for whomever I think will be better for Israel — both in the long and short term. All other considerations are, for me, secondary. And so it is definitely fun to watch my more fanatical friends (on either side of the aisle) work themselves into a frenzy about how “wrong” and totally immoral/without scruples the other side is.
It is about to get a bit interesting here as well. A couple of weeks before you guys vote, we’ll be voting in Israel. Not in national elections (unless Bibi follows through on his umpteenth time threatening to call early elections). Rather, it is time for our municipal elections, where the mayor and city council are elected for five-year terms.
Recapping the last decade of Bet Shemesh politics: current mayor Moshe Abutbol (Shas) has been in office for almost a decade. Elected with a simple plurality of 42 percent in 2008, he was reelected in a hotly contested race in 2013 that was actually run twice due to allegations of massive voter fraud (he won both of the 2013 elections).
During his decade in office, he has presided over a tremendous population growth, with the construction of hundreds (if not thousands) of new housing units. Most of them built for the chareidi (or yeshivish — which is only a demographic here among Anglos) consumer. As such, I would guess that the chareidi public is certainly near or above 50 percent of the total population of the city.
This would normally mean that he, as the chareidi candidate, is all but unbeatable in the coming elections. After all, he won the last very hotly contested election with 52 percent of the vote and most of the new residents of the city since then are likely to be his voters. As in other very chareidi cities, it would seem that any opposing candidate has no chance.
Facing him in the current elections is Aliza Bloch, a Dati Leumi (religious Zionist) highly regarded former local school principal who is running for the second time (she backed out of the 2013 race early in the process in order to provide a unified front for the eventual candidate Eli Cohen). She is running a very positive “Mayor for ALL the people” campaign and her supporters insist that she has significant support from the chareidi public—enough to push her into office.
Interestingly, it’s possible. Until recently there was the possibility that Degel HaTorah would put up an alternative chareidi candidate, but that possibility seems to have faded with agreements in place to provide a sharing of power in exchange for support of the mayor. Additionally, there has been a lot of reported dissatisfaction with the mayor from residents of the most recently built neighborhood, Ramat Bet Shemesh Gimmel. Their issues seem to be lack of services and aesthetic care of their neighborhood. And there might be other disenfranchised members of the general chareidi public (and according to Bloch supporters, there are many) who want to see a change and would support a religious, but not chareidi, candidate.
Over the past several weeks, much ado has been made over the results of a poll of likely voters that showed Bloch leading the race by 1 percent (with 9 percent undecided). This would seem to indicate a very tight race. And they may be right. It might be that close.
Yet, I think we need to take that result with a nugget of salt. First off, polling here has been notoriously inaccurate for the last few elections. Second, I’m not sure I trust the respondents to be telling the truth. And finally, I doubt they actually got a true cross-section of the actual voting public.
Why do I think this? Well, one of my mechanics got polled this week. He came over to me with his cellphone to ask me about a text message he had gotten. As we looked at it, I realized it was a poll, asking who he would vote for if there were elections held that day. Together, we sent a response that he (a very nice single man from a chareidi family) would be voting for Yesh Atid.
Why? For the laughs. To mess with the data. And I’m sure we’re not the only ones to play that game.
Not only that, but this poll was sent out by SMS. Which means that most chareidim are not in the polling pool because most of them don’t have SMS. And therefore, chareidi respondents, at least for this poll, are probably under sampled.
Do I know how the mayoral poll was conducted? No. It might be accurate, but I doubt it.
So yes, I will be voting; all my eligible family members will be voting as well. I’ll encourage others to vote. I’ll probably even close up shop that day (under a new law, Election Day is a federal holiday and I might be required to give all employees the day off). It’s important that the vote gets out. In a city whose last election was decided by 750 votes, every vote does count. However, I am not holding out too much hope that my candidate will win this time around.
Shmuel Katz, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July 2006. Before making aliyah, Shmuel was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.