Analysis: Police floundering in battle against Tony Soprano wannabes

Organized crime is not only succeeding, it is flourishing.

assia abutbul 63 (photo credit: )
assia abutbul 63
(photo credit: )
The biggest problem facing the Israel Police today is an open question, but recently, very many people have had a lot to say about what it will take to restore confidence in Israel's thin blue line. Establishing an "Israeli FBI," increased budgets, new gadgets and tougher sentencing have all been suggested by national figures, including Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, President Shimon Peres and Police Chief Insp.-Gen. David Cohen, as well as a horde of current and former top police brass. But in the current environment - and until the changes take effect, should they even occur at all - the sentiment behind the lines and behind closed doors is alarming: The law enforcement community is forced over and over to play catch-up with the luminaries of the criminal underworld. Cause for even more concern is the fact that, if recent headlines are any indication, the fight against organized crime is not only not succeeding, but more and more people are adopting its methods. In the reality show-infused world of Israel 2007, television producers seem to have missed the best program in town: "Who wants to be the next Tony Soprano?" On Thursday morning, police arrested a 17-year-old soccer fan who decided that the way to spur his team, Maccabi Tel Aviv, to success during a difficult season was to send the following text message to the team's coach's cellular phone during Wednesday's game: "If you don't move us up the standings, we will harm you. We know where you live." The young would-be mafioso was arrested and confessed under questioning, expressing regret for his actions. But his message, however appalling, did not come out of the blue. It seems like we have reached a situation in which everybody thinks that they are the next don - and that the strong-arm method of negotiation has become a norm. If it weren't enough that honest-to-goodness godfather Assi Abutbul was not intimidated by the thought of threatening a district court judge, that judge now is under police protection. Two days after Abutbul's conviction, her Mevaseret Zion house was broken into, and police will not rule out that the incident was not a random burglary, but a thinly veiled threat. Within the past week, the mayor of Rishon Lezion also received threats on his life and a police detective's vehicle was burned, both incidents attributed by police to criminal elements seeking to intimidate their targets. The police know that in the current situation they are losing the war, not just against the various mobs operating throughout the country, but against the mafia mentality, which grants victory and even honor to he who threatens best. Behind the doors of the national headquarters - and of dozens of stations across the country - police sound discouraged. They complain that the laws protect criminals, or, to paraphrase Dichter on Wednesday evening place criminals' rights over those of society. They feel like they are left, to paraphrase the Police Investigative Division discussing the "Nahariya Five," desperate. They feel that - to quote Peres - "the state must solve a number of problems in order to provide the appropriate conditions for police work." The battle against organized crime isn't looking so hot in the final days of 2007, not from inside or outside police ranks. And in the meantime, more and more citizens may choose to adopt the methods of the winning team, while others suffer because of it.