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Good News For The Jews!
The results of the Beit Shemesh elections are in, and the incumbent charedi mayor, Moshe Abutbul, has won again. I can't say that he won fair and square, because amongst other things, the police are investigating what appears to have been a concerted effort by charedi activists to block the main entry road into Beit Shemesh and to block parking spaces near the voting stations. But in any case, I think that Abutbul's victory is probably Good News For The Jews - and I'm not being sarcastic.
Don't get me wrong. I still think that Abutbul is a disaster for the residents of Beit Shemesh, including the charedi residents. His management of the city is very poor and unprofessional - packing in as many new (mostly charedi) residents as possible, with infrastructure that is hopelessly inadequate. Abutbul gives the city a bad name, and prevents Beit Shemesh from receiving national and international investment. He is effectively driving out non-charedi residents. He never stands up to zealots and he has insulted non-charedim. I still think that Eli Cohen would have been a vastly better mayor for almost all the residents of Bet Shemesh.
But there are bigger issues to take into consideration.
The State of Israel is facing a crisis. 60% of charedim are unemployed. 30% of Israeli first-graders are charedim. As one commentator to a previous post asked, at what point does the system fail? When 30% of the population refuses to serve in the army or be productively employed? 50%? 80%?
And this is a problem that is extremely difficult to solve. The charedim have become accustomed to not serving in the army, and to discouraging professional (or even non-professional) employment. Furthermore, this is very difficult to change at a political level, because of the nature of the electoral system. The large parties usually need the small parties in order to form a government, which means paying them off; thus, Sharon was able to execute the Disengagement from Gaza by paying off the charedim. It takes immense national and political resolve to form a government that is determined to encourage charedim to join the workforce and army; usually, it's simpler to just give them the handouts that they demand and benefit from their votes.
This is the first time in many years that there is a government that is doing something about it. Sure, they might be making some mistakes. But there are some achievements also. The vast network of Shas schools is starting to implement a core curriculum of secular studies. The mandatory draft will be suspended for the next few years, enabling many charedim to join the workforce.
The charedim are kicking and screaming about the new government, which will cause many people to leave kollel and change the way in which they educate their children. But the irony is that the particular person most hated for all this, the person who is behind the make-up of the government and its policies, is Yair Lapid. And do you know which single person is most responsible for Yair Lapid's extraordinary rise to power?
That's right. Moshe Abutbul, the charedi mayor of Beit Shemesh, the person who portrays Lapid as the devil himself, is himself the one person by far the most responsible for Lapid.
It was Mayor Moshe Abutbul's appalling mishandling of Beit Shemesh in general, and the Orot Banot girls' school situation in particular, that drew Beit Shemesh into the headlines, caused the rest of Israel to react with horror, and led to the 19 seats that Yair Lapid won in the Knesset. It was because Abutbul immediately caved in to the extremists, refused to condemn their terrorizing of children, refused to express any support or sympathy for the girls who were being traumatized, and sought to prevent the Orot Banot school from opening, that Bet Shemesh became the focal point from which Lapid drew support.
You can be sure that with the re-election of Abutbul, there will be further explosive events in Beit Shemesh, since Abutbul never takes a stand against extremists. Abutbul will continue to give the city a bad name - indeed, just a week after his last re-election, he got in trouble for making disparaging comments about homosexuals. And the rest of Israel will respond by continuing to give political power to Lapid and Bennet.
Furthermore, both Abutbul and Cohen have stated that Beit Shemesh is a microcosm of Israel. And there are few things that the rest of Israel fear more than a hostile takeover by charedim. Seeing such a takeover happening in Beit Shemesh, as per Rav Aharon Feldman's hope that Beit Shemesh will turn into Bnei Brak, will galvanize the rest of Israel into uniting to prevent the charedi lifestyle from taking over Israel.
The result will be that in the next national elections, the charedim will again be unable to enter the government. The government will continue to be able to bring charedim into the workforce and IDF and stem the crisis discussed earlier.
It's bad news for Beit Shemesh that Abutbul was re-elected. But it may well be good news for the State of Israel and the Jewish People.