Religion Magazine

The Real Reason I Am Voting for Eli Cohen for Mayor of Bet Shemesh

By Gldmeier @gldmeier
Here is the real story of why I am voting for Eli Cohen as mayor of Bet Shemesh...
About 10 months ago I was introduced to Eli Cohen. I was brought to a small meeting, with about 10 other people though some of them knew him already, to meet him, hear his background, his ideas and his vision, and to talk about what we wanted from the next mayor.
The real reason I am voting for Eli Cohen for mayor of Bet Shemesh
Most of the people in the room, myself included, described some of the problems of the city - be it clean streets and parks, be it roads full of potholes, be it the falling socio-economic rating of the city, or whatever else - expressed their main issue being we want to live in a normal city - no fighting, no extremism, crazy fights over mehadrin buses, fighting over where schools can and cannot be located, and pointing to Mayor Moshe Abutbol's main failing being in that area - the city has gotten far more extremist under his leadership. I am tired of cringing when I tell people I am from Bet Shemesh.
I am tired of having to explain that it is only a small group of crazies, but they are very loud and cause harm to the haredim as much as, or maybe even more, they cause to the rest of the city. I, as did most others is the room that night, said I want to live in a normal city. Clean, well run, diverse, and normal.
So what happened?
I think that as the campaign got off the ground and it took a direction of running on the platform of being a professional I simply got caught up in that idea. Sure, I have written and talked about Moshe Abutbol's failings in giving in to extremism, especially regarding the Orot school incident, in private to people, but not really as the main idea. I think I got caught up in the campaign theme of professionalism as being the main idea. But it is not, for me..
I have refused to participate in online discussions fighting about who does or does not get credit for the various advances in Bet Shemesh in the past few years, such as new malls and road development. While surely one can argue who precisely deserves the credit, I felt uncomfortable doing so, as if denying Abutbol any credit for the successes of his term rings of being ungrateful. Even if I don't like him for some things and think someone else can do it better, it does not mean I have to deny him the credit for his successes, or at least some of the credit.
Nobody is perfect, and no mayor anywhere in the world, as successful as he or she might be, has perfect success in every aspect of running his, or her, city. Every mayor has successes and failures. I am even sure that Eli Cohen, as professional and experienced as he is, won't be perfect and not everything will work out as planned. Running any city, especially Bet Shemesh, is complex and so many things are involved in every aspect of the city management, and not everything can be changed so easily or quickly. Somethings will work and some won't. That's just the way it is.
That being said, even on purely a professional level, I think Eli Cohen will be a better mayor than Moshe Abutbol has been. I disagree with the retort that at least Abutbol is better than Dani Vaknin was - because so what? Yes, I agree he is better than Vaknin was, but looking to be better than Vaknin is setting a very low bar, and accomplishing that is not a reason to deserve a second term.
But that is not the main issue.
The main issue is that Moshe Abutbol has allowed the city to go the way of the crazies. We are living in a city where extremists have the upper hand, where I have to explain myself when telling colleagues in Tel Aviv or elsewhere where I live, when someone comes from elsewhere to meet with me in Bet Shemesh he confirms whether the directions I gave him will take him through an area where they are throwing stones.
So what changed? Why am I suddenly realizing that this is the main issue and not the idea of professionalism that I and everyone else has been touting all along?
The real reason I am voting for Eli Cohen for mayor of Bet Shemesh
I think there were two things in the past few days that happened.
1. Suddenly I saw laid out very clearly Moshe Abutbol's successes. As part of the campaign, people arguing on behalf of Moshe Abutbol have pointed to a series of successes (ignoring the failures, of course, but that is besides the point). And when looking at the list of successes, which are almost completely limited to the "big picture" and not the small details of the situation of the city, I thought to myself so he has some failures, but look at all these successes. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe he deserves to keep his seat. Eli won't be perfect either.
2. the following guest post was originally posted on Facebook on a page supporting Moshe Abutbol (I got the author's permission to post it below), and that reminded me of how I got involved in all this in the first place, and that the real issue was not whether Moshe Abutbol cleaned the streets well enough or not, but did he give the crazy extremists too much power and recognition. And he did. And with all the other problems, many of which I only became aware of because of my involvement with the campaign, the issue of the extremists is really the problem with Bet Shemesh.
Saul said it better than I can, so continue reading Saul's post below..
a guest post from Saul Behr
I'm going to cut through a lot of fluff and distill down to the core of the reason why I'm voting for Eli Cohen rather than Moshe Abutbul.
You can post as much as you like about the "fantastic" achievements of Abutbul's term of office: Road 10, Kenyon Neimi, Rama Gimmel, whatever. Frankly, I don't give a ki hu zeh about that. Because to me, the defining theme of Abutbul's term of office has been that he has been as divisive and parochial a mayor as you could imagine.
Five years ago, hot on the heels of Barack Obama's successful employment of the tactic, Abutbul came to power on a similar hopey-changey ticket, where he posed as the "Mayor for everyone". He had gathered a broad base of support, not just from charedim, but also from many secular and traditional parties. I seriously considered voting for him, though I eventually voted for Lerner, and when he won, I was just glad that Vaknin had been ousted.
Like Obama, Abutbul pulled a bait-and-switch on us. Everything about his stewardship of this city for the past 5 years has been about furthering the narrow UTJ/Shas agenda. I'm not saying he did nothing for other parts of the city, but whenever the extreme charedi agenda came into conflict with anyone else, Abutbul reflexively took a position to either bolster or appease the extremists. Examples: Near lynch of Natalie Mashiach, Orot Banot, bus stonings, Residu Center, the Ma'ar, exercise equipment being removed from parks when extremists schreied about tznius, general contempt for the law in RBS-B. And don't hide behind the argument that law enforcement isn't the mayor's job: if you have a mayor who makes it a priority to stamp out crime, violence and intimidation, then he can do for RBS-B what Rudy Giuliani did for Central Park.
As a result, from having the broadest ever coalition at the start of his tenure, every single non-Charedi party has since left the coalition, as well as Tov. Take a look at who is supporting him now: only the charedi parties. Not a single non-charedi political party, NGO or other interest group is endorsing Abutbul.
On the other hand, Eli Cohen, whom the Abutbul campaign keeps baselessly accusing of being anti-charedi, has support from every sector of the population, including the charedim (Tov).
Does that not give you pause for thought?
Of course it's important to have proven managerial skills, but as far as I'm concerned, it's far, far more important that the mayor of the city should be doing the job with the interests of all its residents at heart, not just the sector that elected him. A divisive mayor causes sin'as chinam, in both directions.
As it happens, Eli Cohen satisfies both requirements. Moshe Abutbul fails on both.

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