Whenever assorted gangsters go on shooting and bombing sprees to settle intra-mob accounts - occasionally racking up collateral damage among innocent passersby - the resultant public outcry invariably produces stentorian pledges from officialdom to eradicate organized crime. Just how this purportedly uncompromising war is waged was demonstrated last Monday in Nazareth District Court.
Nahariya's own underworld kingpin Michael Mor was sent up for 11 months for threats and extortion attempts against judges and policemen. He has been in custody since last February and that period will now be deducted from the anyway inordinately lenient sentence. Thus Mor's release is expected within two to three months. That the judge ordered he reside south of Haifa for 13 months thereafter is no particular hardship. Mor can conduct "business" comfortably by remote control.
This case has drawn particular attention because last July the Haifa District Court convicted four policemen - all with prestigious records and promising careers - for concocting a vigilante plot to combat Mor. They claimed to have acted in self-defense, that "it was him or them," after Mor repeatedly threatened their families and after grenades were tossed into their homes.
Nobody denied that Mor menaced the cops and their families. Unfortunately, the police offered no effective assistance when called upon to help its own beleaguered officers who put their lives on the line for their community's sake. When the quartet gave up on legal recourse, all that mattered legally - and rightfully so - was that they resorted to illicit means to try to deter him, including planting explosive devices near his home and car. The four face heavy sentences and will afterwards be unemployed, perhaps unemployable.
The Nahariya cops weren't the only ones in Mor's sights. When he was in detention, he was recorded brazenly issuing blatant, vulgar and unequivocal threats against both police and judges involved in pressing weapons charges from 2006 against him. He swore he'd rip "their wives and children to bits" and "drive the cockroach cops back into their holes. They'll be afraid to walk the streets."
Yet by the time these recordings were submitted in evidence, an "arbitration process" was already under way between prosecution and defense. Ultimately, 35 of 37 charges were dropped. The prosecution argues that it aimed to "cool Nahariya down" and that "only time will tell" whether the deal was or wasn't a good one.
KNOWING THE protagonists, however, it is reasonable to assume that the effect of the Mor deal and consequent sentence will be exceedingly bad. By the scales of common sense, the light sentence is a disgrace, a travesty of justice. If anything, it augurs a systemic breakdown.
This isn't only a lay perception. Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonowitz has described the brief jail term handed to Mor as "wind in the sails of lawlessness. Mor's case is one of the gravest in recent memory. This crime boss boldly threatened policemen and judges, but is allowed to walk out. The message this sends to fellow felons is ruinous."
Trying hard to make lemonade from acutely bitter lemons, Police Inspector-General Dudi Cohen pledged to "stay on Mor's tail." He went on to recycle familiar bombastic promises to "defeat crime syndicates."
There's no denying the police initially fell down on the job. Yet when Mor was belatedly brought to reckoning, the available legal remedies weren't utilized, despite ironclad proof. By law, the threats Mor made could have earned him nine years' imprisonment. In most Western countries he would have been sent away for many years. There is nothing wrong with our law-books either; they're just ignored. No judge is obliged to endorse out-of-court bargains. That this untenable "arbitration" was endorsed, indeed, constitutes a compelling argument for mandatory minimum sentences for given offenses.
The twin images of Mor walking free while the vigilante officers are imprisoned undermine the safety of all of us. They represent a potent disincentive for potential candidates even remotely considering law-enforcement service. On top of being overworked and underpaid, why would anyone seek mortal risks knowing that crime pays while lawmen are left to fend for themselves?