Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Will Charedim Vote In Their Own Best Interests?

Municipal elections are being held soon in Bet Shemesh (which includes Ramat Bet Shemesh). The issues are very different from those of the national elections, and it gives a window of insight into the dynamics of charedi vs. non-charedi populations.

There are two leading candidates for mayor. One is the current (charedi) mayor, Moshe Abutbol, from Shas. He's a friendly person of average intelligence (picture at right, in the middle, when he was looking at my book The Challenge Of Creation, and asking me what dinosaurs are). But he is utterly incompetent as mayor, and has clearly demonstrated (and more-or-less explicitly said) that he believes in kowtowing to the most extreme factions amongst the charedim. The challenging candidate is Eli Cohen (pictured below), a traditional Jew who has the backing of virtually all non-charedi factions. He's held senior positions in the Jewish Agency and Mekorot Water Company.

It will be a close race: Eli Cohen is leading in the polls, but only by a narrow margin. The question is, will charedim vote in their own best interests, or will they vote to maintain the current charedi mayor?

Why do I say that the non-charedi candidate is the best candidate for the charedim? This isn't out of some paternalistic Yair Lapid-style position that non-charedim know better than charedim what sort of life they should be leading. Rather, it's based on some very simple truths.

1. Everyone needs the municipality to have money, and benefits when it has more money.
2. A significant proportion of the charedi population pays very little in municipal taxes - people in kollel get a 90% exemption.
3. Under Abutbol (and as a result of him), many non-charedim (i.e. people who pay full municipal taxes) left the city, and many non-tax-paying charedim moved in. This pattern would continue and even increase were Abutbol to be re-elected. Non-charedim are not attracted to a city in which Abutbol is mayor.

Thus, it's better for charedim if there is a non-charedi mayor, who will maintain a strong tax-base. QED.

I would also add:

4. Abutbol is hopelessly incompetent at running a city. This is only to be expected, since he has no professional training. He's been unsuccessful at attracting business to the city and managing the budget. Money designated for projects such as security cameras, the Kav LaChaim fund, libraries, the Cities Without Violence project, and cultural centers, has simply disappeared. The city is a mess (until a recent frantic pre-election cleanup). Posters saying "Jews Hate Zionists" remained up for months, while city sanitation workers are speedily dispatched to take down campaign posters for Eli Cohen. The planning of the new neighborhoods is nothing less than a disaster, with completely inadequate areas for businesses and other communal necessities. Already in Ramat Bet Shemesh, many retailers are reduced to running their businesses from subterranean store-rooms, there is inadequate parking, and it's only going to get worse when the new neighborhoods get occupied. Eli Cohen, on the other hand, is professionally trained in resource management and has successfully run major organizations. Everyone benefits from having a mayor who knows how to run a city professionally.

Are there any reasons why the above simple arguments would not be valid? One reason would be if charedim had to fear becoming an insignificant minority in the city. But this is clearly not the case - they are already at least 40% of the population, and once the new neighborhoods of RBS open, charedim will be the majority of the population forever. There is no chance of charedim becoming an insignificant minority - the future choice is between them being a slight majority or the vast majority.

Another potential flaw in the above logic would be if Eli Cohen had antipathy towards charedim, and would not enable them to benefit from the increased funds that the city will have when he is elected. Abutbol and his team are running a nasty and completely hypocritical campaign, claiming that Cohen is anti-charedi and is running an anti-charedi campaign. But he isn't at all (follow the above link for more details). In hypocritical contrast, Abutbol and his team are running an anti-non-charedi campaign, telling people that Rav Steinman said that it would be a chillul Hashem to vote for a secular mayor. (What they don't reveal is that Rav Steinman and them are thereby condemning the Gerrer Rebbe along with all the Boyan, Viznitz and Sanz chassidus, who supported secular candidate Nir Barkat in Jerusalem against the charedi candidate.)

As Eli Cohen told me personally, under his leadership everyone would benefit, including charedim - when the pie is bigger, everyone gets a bigger piece. Certainly, charedim are not faring well from the non-charedi population leaving Bet Shemesh, which impoverishes the city.

Charedim, then, stand to gain tremendously from having a non-charedi mayor. Some of them recognize this and will be voting for him. But why will others vote for Abutbol? The reason is pathetic and tragic. It's due to simple tribalism. Abutbul is the chareidi candidate, which means that he is "us." Cohen is the non-charedi candidate, which means that he is "them." End of story.

One can only hope that many charedim will be intelligent enough to vote in their own best interests.


  1. Forgive my ignorance, but what does "traditional Jew" (your description of Cohen) mean in this context?

  2. Well, I don't know him well, but my impression is that he is in the category of sefardim who don't wear a kippah but are religious in other ways.

  3. 1. The second paragraph of the article says Abutbol from Shas, but does not say Cohen from Bayit Yehudi. Please correct.
    2. I think your downplaying the difference between a slight majority vs. a vast majority. To put in perspective, it’s similar to the difference between having a few cars going through your neighborhood on Shabbos versus having no cars go through your neighborhood on Shabbos. Having just a handful of cars driving around Ramat Gimmel, Daled, Hey and Vav is too many. A vast majority guarantees the future of Beit Shemesh will be exactly as the Haredim want it. Therefore, painful as it may be, and your logical points notwithstanding, it is absolutely in the Haredi best interest to vote in a Haredi mayor in this election.
    3. Do you have a source for the statement about a large portion of Haredim paying highly subsidized Arnona?
    4. The picture of you, Rav Spector Zt’l and Abutbol is begging for a caption contest. My suggestion would be “Rav Spector Zt’l showing Meir Abutbol the 8 Haskamos to Rav Slifkin’s Sefer The Challenge of Creation”. :)

  4. As in, he probably puts on Tefillin every day, makes Kiddush and goes to shul every Friday night, fasts on Yom Kippur, builds a Succa, etc, etc

    R' Natan, if you could have this published in kikarshabbat, or some other site that is read by Chareidim, then it might make a difference to exactly those people who care more about tzedek u'mishpat than about tribalism.

  5. Seems to me the simplest way to reduce the vote for Abutbol is a campaign that it's assur to vote in in bechiroseyem hatameios. Any volunteers to post pashkvilim ?

  6. Was I mistaken or did you just say that a grown man who is mayor of a city didn't know what a dinosaur was?

  7. This post would be better if you started it by simply saying straight out, "I plan to vote for Eli Cohen, and here's why." Otherwise, with all due respect, this article sounds precisely like one of those (all too common) media articles in which non-Republicans earnestly tell Republicans who they should be voting for, and actually think someone will take them seriously.

  8. A chareidi voter given a choice between having a town council with lots of money from chiloni residents who walk around half naked and talk on smartphones versus a town full of holy people who get their money from Hashem will probably choose the latter.

  9. There's not going to be any chilonim - they've already been scared off for good - only dati-leumi.

    And I've got news for you: You say that charedi money comes from Hashem - but He sends it via chilonim and datim-leumim!

  10. I know how money comes from Hashem. Tell it to the chareidi voters in Beit Shemesh.

  11. Ben - don't worry, the work will be done. Of course, it won't convince anyone except those who already don't vote....

  12. I am way out outside this discussion, but just an observation. Recently Detroit declared bankruptcy. What was the main reason? The tax base of white people fled as crime rose and the city deteriorated.

    I am not in any way (G-d forbid) comparing the Charedi population of Bet Shemesh to the Detroit population. And Bet Shemesh is not comparable to Detroit in almost every way. I am only pointing out the reality that without the ability to collect taxes from businesses and middle and upper income workers, a city cannot sustain itself. This is an economic reality that is impossible to escape.

  13. The situation sounds very grim in Bet Shemesh, and sometimes things have to become a little worse before it can get any better.

    The charedim are a bunch of ignoramuses and can not even recognize what is best for their own interest. Having said that, they will vote with their fears as opposed to with their intelligence.

    But the question should rather be "why do not the dati-leumi-Ramat Bet Shemesh community secede and form their own municipality leaving the charedim to their own fate?"

  14. Libby Lippy Gadkin:

    Eli Cohen is not from Bayit Yehudi, they are just supporting him for Mayor, much like many other factions in the city. Eli Cohen's party is Bet Shemesh Chozeret, which is not Likud, not Bayit Yehudi, not Shas, or any other party.

    I believe they are currently running a combined list of candidates from different party list's, but Eli Cohen is not the head of the Bayit Yehudi in Bet Shemesh.

    If Neturei Karta came out in support of Abutbol, would you call him the NK candidate?

  15. Why the gratuitous dig at Lapid? It's a phenomenon I've seen elsewhere, and it's uncalled for, cheap, inaccurate, and ruins otherwise good posts.

    And who knows, maybe non-charedim do know better what's good for charedim. I think you know who they'll vote for.

  16. "Samuel Dinkels. I am not in any way (G-d forbid) comparing the Charedi population of Bet Shemesh to the Detroit population=========== ========== ""samuel" you don't have to excuse yourself for the comparison,it is absolutely valid,because a large percentage of both society's don't want to work,live off the government handouts and welfare programs,are bored out of their minds, hate themselves and every one around them,have a very low self esteem,and find excitement in their empty lives by burning down their own neighborhoods Ala Detroit,Meah Shearim.

  17. Regardless of specific circumstance, splitting the Chareidi vote is potentially weakening for internal and external reasons.

    Only Gur at the end voted against Porush, Boyan supported him at the end. And almost any Chareidi would not have a problem critisizing Gur for their behavior (their response is that having the wrong Chareidi make a Chilul Hashem (PR?) in such a position is worse).

    Anyways stating someone has "average IQ," -- I'd ask someone with L.H. IQ.

  18. It's depressing to read that seemingly everyone in this article (including you, and your preferred candidate) appears to believe that government is some sort of Keren Shefa which dispenses money and projects in a bountiful fashion.

  19. Detroit may be an emotionally charged example, but there are many others. It's hard to reverse taxpayer flight. I don't see it happening here, no matter who wins. The ones paying the highest taxes will eventually move. They won't move to avoid the taxes, but eventually they will get new jobs, relocate, marry or die. Once they move, they won't be replaced.


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