What is this, Chicago?!

When I first moved to Israel a decade ago, people here got a kick out of learning that I had lived in Chicago. In their minds, the city was synonymous with organized crime; their only reference for the Windy City was Al Capone and the machine gun-toting mobsters of the ’20s and ’30s. The stereotype was so strong that, whenever a violent crime was committed in Israel, people would ask incredulously, “What is this, Chicago?”

The question must be ringing in Israel Police headquarters these days. A local mob scene that was assumed to have been tamed by the extradition of Zev Rosenstein to the United States a few years back and the announcement of the plan to extradite fellow heavyweights itzik and Meir Abergil has instead exploded into a full-blown war. The seaside town of Netanya has been plunged into fear, as dueling families have perpetrated a series of brazen daytime assassination attempts in which civilians were just as likely to be sprayed with gunfire as the mob bosses themselves.

Curent Israel Police chief Dudi Cohen was supposed to have led a crackdown on organized crime, and even established a special unit called Lahav (“Blade”) to carry out the task, but the slew of attempted hits this past week has exposed the weakness of law enforcement vis-a-vis the mob. Now a special unit has been ordered specifically for Netanya, and time will tell whether they’ll be something of a local version of the Untouchables who brought down Capone.

As I wrote over a year ago, though, Israel has still has a long way to go when it comes to fighting organized crime. It has adopted the methods and acquired the tools necessary to cripple the mafia only very recently, and it is not at all clear that it has the wherewithal to use them. The extradition of Rosenstein, although trumpeted as a success, was also an admission that Israeli law enforcement needed the American authorities to fight its fight for them; the latest extradition attempt of the Abergils smacks of more of the same.

It’s at the point now that folks in Netanya would feel safer in Chicago.


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