In a post entitled Will Charedim Vote In Their Own Best Interests? I noted that in the forthcoming Bet Shemesh elections, it's clearly in the best interests of charedim to vote for the non-charedi candidate, Eli Cohen. Yesterday, I posted a letter from a charedi avreich who recognizes that. Why, then, will many charedim vote to maintain the incumbent charedi mayor, Moshe Abutbol? The answer, I posited, is tribalism.
After having had extensive discussions/ arguments with a friend who is campaigning for Abutbol, and a local rav who is a strong supporter of Abutbol, and reading the Abutbol campaign literature, I think that it's a combination of tribalism with a siege mentality.
The Abutbol campaign speaks about various things that he has achieved. This in itself doesn't mean much; anyone acting as mayor for five years, in a city growing enormously, is going to have some new things to show off. But I haven't heard anyone - not even my friend officially involved in the Abutbol campaign - even attempt to offer any arguments that Abutbol is actually a better mayor than Cohen would be, in terms of knowing how to run a city professionally and enhancing its economy. Perhaps they realize that such a claim would be a non-starter, in light of the relative training and achievements of Abutbol versus Cohen. Instead, the Abutbol campaign boils down to one single message: "Eli Cohen is the secular enemy of the charedim!"
This message appears in several manifestations. One is the charge that "Eli Cohen is not religious!" Of course, that's not necessarily a strike against him; after all, Nir Barkat is even less religious, and yet various Chassidic rebbes supported him. Nor is it clear how it is especially relevant for a mayor to be religious. Unless the idea is that you have to vote for someone who is "one of us" - in which case, are they saying that anyone who is not charedi should not vote for Abutbul, since he's not one of them?
Another manifestation of this message is the charge that "Eli Cohen is supported by Bennett and Lapid, who want to wipe out Torah!" This claim is also a little odd. First of all, Bennett and Lapid do not want to "wipe out Torah." They have nothing against the Torah of the dati-leumi community! They merely want to end the terrible system whereby tens of thousands of men do not share the burden of military defense nor contribute towards the economy nor fulfill their (Torah-mandated) obligation to support their families. Second, what does Eli Cohen have to do with Bennett and Lapid? Sure, they support him, but he wasn't their candidate; he started as an independent, and they only joined on later. Anyone who meets Eli Cohen will realize that he has no animosity whatsoever towards the charedi public, and wants to be a truly fair mayor. What exactly do people think that Cohen is going to do against charedim? The Abutbol supporters are broadcasting the absurd charge that he will run buses in charedi areas of Bet Shemesh on Shabbos. It's too nonsensical for words; there's simply no way that he would want to do it, or that it could ever happen (besides, who would even ride on such buses?). Finally, the clincher is that none other than Agudas Yisrael is running on a joint ticket with Bayit Yehudi in several cities in Israel - Rehovot, Bat Yam and Tel Aviv. If Agudas Yisrael can do it, why can't Eli Cohen?
Another manifestation of this message is that "The Gedolim are against him!" Well, yes, they are. Of course, if you are naive enough to think that the charedi Gedolim are good judges of what is beneficial for the charedi community - including enforced poverty and endless bans - and that they are fully aware of the relative merits of Moshe Abutbol versus Eli Cohen, then there's nothing to discuss.
I was gladdened to receive a letter, signed by about a dozen rabbanim/ roshei kollel of dati-leumi communities in Bet Shemesh, announcing their support for Eli Cohen. They declared that after investigating matters, they concluded that he is a good person who will work fairly for the best of all communities. Clearly these rabbanim don't see him as anti-Torah in any way, nor are they concerned about his running buses on Shabbos.
It's true that Eli Cohen will probably slow down the accelerating charedization of Bet Shemesh - but he will make a better city for the charedim that are already here, due to more professional administration of the city, attracting more business and thereby having an increased budget, and so on. Many charedim realize that. It's unfortunately that others are endlessly stuck in the "siege mentality" whereby anyone running against a charedi candidate is necessarily "the secular enemy." Maybe when they see how the city improves under Mayor Cohen, with no buses on Shabbos, they'll realize that this charedi siege mentality is an unwise and unhealthy attitude.
Meanwhile, here's an interesting flyer that I received today, from "Charedi Bnei Torah Disappointed With Abutbol."