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Oct 10, 2013

The real reason I am voting for Eli Cohen for mayor of Bet Shemesh

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.

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?

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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  1. So after Eli Cohen is mayor, there won't be any more crazies? They won't throw stones?
    Just what is he planning to do???

    1. he will condemn them, he will pressure the police to act more, he will not give legitimacy to their demands when they are made using violent tactics.
      They are people and residents, and their needs must also be met. But they must treat everyone else with respect as well.
      The way it is now they hold the entire city hostage to their demands, and the current mayor is fine with that.

      to me this is the most serious moral failing, for which he must be replaced.

    2. I think the real issue here is moral leadership. Although there may be some practical steps a mayor can take, as Rafi notes below, the most important thing the mayor can do is to stand up for the non-violent portion of the population, and to make it clear to both the residents and to outsiders that the violence has no moral approval from the authorities. This might at least have helped to limit the bad reputation that Beit Shemesh has gotten, and to give residents at least the feeling that they are not outsiders in their own city, and that the authorities know how to distinguish right from wrong. Between the mayor and some of the rabbis, I think that very much the opposite impressions were given.

    3. So he will make a lot of noise. But what will this do? They will still be the same crazies, they will still have the same demands.
      What have they acheived? Did they force the girls out of that school?
      If the mayor goes on the radio and rants and screams, will no more stones be thrown at buses?
      If the mayor speaks oput ion newspapers, will 'less-dressed' women RBSB be respected?
      Kanoyim have been a plague on the chareidi community for at least 70 years, and switching mayors will do nothing at all. It hasn't worked in Yerushalayim, and there isn't a reason in the world why it should work here.

    4. Baruch , when Beit Shemesh has a bad reputation nationally, what do they speak about? The the actions of the kanoyim, or so-called approval of the mayor? Rafi?

    5. Hamasig - the actions of the kanoyim, of course. I don't want to over-emphasize the importance of the mayor here. I agree with what you say above, that "Kanoyim have been a plague on the chereidi community for at least 70 years..." But I don't agree with the end of the sentence. A new mayor, no matter how good he may be, won't make this problem go away. But strong leadership might make things a little better. A little better is better than a little worse, and I think Abutbul's waffling make things at least a little worse. The comparison I keep thinking of is to how David Dinkins handled the Crown Heights riots, although Dinkins probably had more actual power to misuse than Abutbul. But the moral leadership failure was very similar, in my opinion.

    6. Hamasig -- Keep in mind that Abutbol was planning on refusing to open Orot Banot because of the protests. The Minister of Education threatened to suspend his powers to give approval for opening schools as a work around.

      I don't remember the name of the school in RBS that the Mayor tried to close. He told the parents he was on their side but it was not in his control and was completely up to a decision from the Minister of Education. When the Minister of Education said the school should remain open, the Mayor said he would fight it. The Minister of Education threatened to nationalize the school to take it out of Abutbol's jurisdiction. That year Kita Aleph registration opened something like one or two months late because all of the schools open for registration in the same window.

    7. It's seems you don't remember. The school is secular, in RBSA and half empty. All the children come from different neighborhoods. The school next door is overflowing into caravans. It makes no sense to keep that school there.
      The Education minister over-ruled the mayor, to the detriment over the local residents, and the children are still in caravans.
      It has nothing to do with kanoyim (unless you call Gidon Saar a kanoy).

    8. Hamsig,
      I believe secular students deserve classroom space as much any other kids in the city. That does mean that there are times resources need to be relocated. Based on history in this city, I also understand why the parents would be against sharing unused resources. Let's share today become get out of our school tomorrow. We don't need to debate this topic as we would probably end up agreeing to disagree anyways. I do have a problem with the Mayor's double speak on this topic.

      My main point is the Mayor is willing to go to bat to close non-Charedi schools. He puts his full effort to trying to reallocate a small number of classrooms as if the problem isn't there aren't enough classrooms in the city. When it comes to violence, he talks about the need to understand the community or blame the victim.

      Violence should never be rewarded. As long as this administration makes political decisions to appease potential or actual violence then the city is not going to grow to it's full potential.

  2. About crime, there is a great difference between Abutbol and Guliani - the NYPD is under the authority of the mayor, whereas the Israeli police is under the control of the national government. I wouldn't be surprised if the mayor has some influence on the local police, but the blame for the fiascos in RBSB and Orot Banot really has to be laid at the feet of the national government and the Minister of Internal Security.

    1. thats the standard answer, but it is not true. The mayor sets the tone and the priorities. he can pressure the police to do more. he can hire his own pakachim, he received money for 400 cameras to be spread around th city as part of the "city with no violence" initiative, but he never installed the cameras. he can go on radio and in the newpapers and condemn the violence and the perps and find solutions, but he refuses to condemn in almost every case and gives them legitimacy by talking to them and advancing their demands over everyone else's.;

    2. And the police, when they were present at Orot Banot, stood there and did nothing to remove the crazies from the school - whose fault is that? You can't lay the main blame at the feet of the person who is NOT legally responsible for the police.

  3. Doesn't anyone remember what was going on with the sikrikim in Bet when Vaknin was mayor? He came down hard on them and sent the police in all the time. As a result, there were constant riots and the streets were often closed. There were times when it felt like an absolute war zone.

    Eli Cohen's plan sounds like a recipe for disaster, IMHO.

  4. I dont understand something - the mayor does not build roads, for example. He also does not control the government offices that are responsible for building and approving new roads. Yet, when he calls and puts pressure on those offices and gets them to do what he wants, he gets credit as if he built the road himself.
    Regardign violence he puts no pressure on the police, doesnt do anything from his own office independent of the police, and then says there is nothing he can do about it, call the police, ti is their problem and there is nothing he can do about it. and doesnt get any blame for not putting the same pressure on that he used for all those government offices for the roads, school buildings or whatever?

    if he thinks there is nothing he can do so why bother trying, he should be sent home anyway.

    1. Perhaps Anonymous is correct. Experience shows that coming down with force just causes a more violent reaction.
      It isn't the mayor that learnt from experience. It's the police.

    2. Well the police in this country never want to have to work too hard.

  5. I would just remind everyone that Pirkei Avos has proven correct with every election: politicians of every stripe will promise you all kinds of things to get themselves into power and thenforget about you once there voted in. Take everything they say with a grain of salt.


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