By Shmuel Katz
Several weeks ago I wrote an article previewing the upcoming mayoral election here in Bet Shemesh. I analyzed the race and demographic trends here in Bet Shemesh and forecast a loss for the challenger, Aliza Bloch. I predicted that she’d get my vote and the vast majority of the non-chareidi votes in the city, but that demographically there were too many votes for the current mayor, Moshe Abutbul. I didn’t say it quite so graphically in print, but in person, I predicted that she would lose—and lose big.
I am quite happy to have been proven wrong. I had forgotten that elections are decided by the voters and not demographics. Though she ended up winning by something like 750 votes, it was initially too close to call until the “absentee ballots” were tallied, which only took place a couple of days after the election.
I shouldn’t really call them absentee ballots, because Israel does not have any form of absentee ballots. If you are a physically capable person and neither in the army nor in jail, you either show up on Election Day to cast your ballot or you don’t vote. Period. The only people who can vote outside of their polling station are the handicapped, soldiers, and prisoners (yes, they vote).
Their ballots are cast separately than the rest of the voters. I am not sure how all the ballots are submitted (although I know that soldiers vote on base). But at the end of Election Day, their ballots are collected and distributed to the various municipalities. Each ballot is contained within an exterior envelope, with the person’s name and identifying information to verify that they have the right to vote for that particular election.
Once the voter is certified, the exterior envelope is discarded and an interior envelope, containing the ballot slip, is put into the ballot box. Once the interior envelopes are all either discarded as invalid or put into the ballot box, the ballot box is opened and these final votes are tallied.
At the end of election night, the incumbent, Mayor Moshe Abutbul, led the election by approximately 250 votes (out of over 40,000 cast). With over 1,000 handicapped/prisoner/soldier votes to be counted, we had to wait two days for the official collection and tabulation of the final votes to finally find out who the winner would be.
Interestingly, despite the fact that their candidate lost the mayoral election, the chareidi parties garnered a majority of the seats in the city council. That means that there was a significant crossover vote of people who voted chareidi for the city council and for Aliza Bloch for mayor. I had not anticipated that there would be as much of a crossover in the voting.
But it wasn’t just that. Voter turnout in chareidi polling stations was lower than in the past two elections. This is another factor that I hadn’t considered. And to complicate the analysis even more, it seems that fewer votes were cast for mayor than for the city council, which seems weird.
One theory I heard was that some people deliberately invalidated their ballot slips so that their votes (for the incumbent) would not be counted. It’s pretty easy to invalidate a ballot slip. If the ballot slip shows signs of a fold or is crumpled, it’s invalid. If there is a foreign mark upon it—invalid. If there is more than one slip in a single ballot envelope—invalid. It has to be unblemished within the envelope.
According to this theory, some of the voters wanted to comply with the “you must vote for our candidate” edict, especially if their kids went into the ballot area with them (we took our son Moshe) while making sure that their vote would not actually count.
I had not counted on how dissatisfied the mayor’s support base had become with his performance and I don’t think he did either. He did not appear to be campaigning very hard and seemed to be assuming a victory. I think he was as surprised as the rest of us were when the results came in.
Another factory in the mayor-elect’s victory was her refusal to go negative. Despite several attempts by the mayor’s campaign to bait her into going negative, she stayed on message through the end. “We can do this together” seemed to be a main theme, and meeting every demographic group to hear their concerns was a hallmark of her campaign.
As usual, once she was elected, all the rumors and innuendo from the campaign were magnified nationally. Local residents blasted their neighbors for supporting a non-religious woman and not listening to daas Torah in helping to elect her. Several right-wing, extremist chareidi rabbanim made very insulting and unflattering comments, which are not worth repeating, about her and the voters who elected her.
Here’s the truth: Aliza Bloch is a religious woman. She even covers her hair. Her kids go to religious schools (I think our Moshe is in the same school with one of them, who is friends with our nephew). The assertions that she is non-religious were totally false and simply a campaign scare tactic.
Yes, she was the principal of a non-religious local high school. She oversaw tremendous growth in that school and the school won national awards for excellence. She has a reputation as an outstanding administrator.
And isn’t that the goal? Like a school, the city, while certainly on a larger scale, needs proper management. It needs proper oversight. It needs change. Not to freeze any one demographic out of the city. That’s basically what we’ve had the past 10 years. And focusing on one single demographic has led to a very significant (relative to other cities) drop in tax revenue per capita and per capita spending by the city on services for its citizens. I read that we spend less per person than any other city in the country.
I hope that she is successful. I hope she can work with all the parties, chareidi and non-chareidi, to build a city council coalition that provides for all demographics. I hope she is successful in developing new sources of revenue and expanding the current sources, so Bet Shemesh can get back up off the mat. Basically, I hope—and I can’t believe I am so outrageously plagiarizing here—that she “makes Bet Shemesh great again!”
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. Read more of Shmuel Katz’s articles here.