'Godfathers' threatening local government, says leading criminologist

Ex-top cops say crime lords infiltrating politics, allege some MKs have ties to underworld.

Yoram Hacham 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
Yoram Hacham 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
Mafia-style crime families and organizations, complete with their own hierarchal structures, "soldiers," and "godfathers," are rife in Israel, and are casting a shadow over local government and business, leading crime experts and former law enforcement officials said during a conference for quality government in Jerusalem on Tuesday. "There are godfathers in Israel," said criminologist Prof. Menahem Amir of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "If crime organizations succeed in their attempt to infiltrate local government, then democracy will be in danger," he added. "Certain Knesset members, whom I will not name, are suspected of having links to organized crime," he added. "The organizations have a hierarchy, and a leadership with the ability to use violence," Amir said. "Internally, they use that violence to prevent members from cooperating with police. Externally, they threaten those who hold power, or bribe them if necessary." Last week's car bombing assassination of criminal lawyer Yoram Hacham was "undoubtedly the work of an organized crime organization," said Cmdr. (ret.) Yaakov Borovsky, former chief of the Northern District Police. "Whatever the motive, he was killed by organized crime. A hit was ordered, and someone else carried it out," he said. The troubling interaction between politicians and mobsters was tackled by former Israel Police chief investigator Cmdr. (ret.) Moshe Mizrahi, who said, "Elected officials are, unfortunately, mingling with gangsters... organized crime influences elections, and has a brutal influence on municipalities." Mizrahi said that many local council leaders have been threatened, and now need bodyguards. "There have been shots fired and grenades thrown as part of the intimidation tactics. Those are the council leaders who have not surrendered to threats. But what about those we don't hear about, who could not resist?" Mizrahi added that "the relationship between organized crime and corruption in the political sphere is symbiotic - they feed off of each other." Dr. Menahem Hofnung, of the Hebrew University's Department of Political Science, said political parties have been known to employ known criminals to organize rallies on a local level. "This intimidates opponents in order to prevent them from interrupting. It can also ensure that rivals are interrupted," he explained. "Between 1999 and 2003, we saw a huge infiltration of criminal organizations into the Likud Party." Dvora Chen, former head of the security department at the State Prospector's Office, said the judiciary did not have sufficient legal tools at its disposal to tackle the problem. She said the five-year-old Crime Organization Law, which can punish crime bosses without charging them with a specific offense, had produced very few convictions since it was passed. "In the US, there is a massive witness protection program, which is only really beginning here," she added. But Yehoshua Lamberger, deputy state prosecutor for criminal affairs, said new cooperation between police, prosecutors, customs officials, and other authorities meant that officials were meeting on a monthly basis to produce an "updated map of organized crime." He cited the creation of six task forces to tackle organized crime that will have up-to-the-minute information. Those steps were welcomed by Bilhat Azar, whose husband, Judge Adi Azar, was gunned down by gangsters. But, Azar stressed, more needed to be done, including the creation of a nationwide authority under a single roof to tackle the underworld. "In light of the rise in violence, we must ask: Where is Israeli society heading? The current tools of law enforcement are insufficient. We need to place this at the top of our national priority," she said.