Men of no honor

Those who join the underworld are to be shunned, shamed and marginalized - not vicariously celebrated.

alperon car bomb 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
alperon car bomb 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
It's easy to get caught up in the romance and mystique associated with organized crime. Misfits and sociopaths are somehow transformed into glamorous characters when their names are tied to the underworld. For the past three days, the country has been mesmerized by Ya'acov Alperon, the crime boss who was blown-up in his rental car on a busy Tel Aviv boulevard. This happened 30 minutes after he left a courthouse where proceedings over his son Dror's indictment for blackmail had just concluded. Israel's main television channels have devoted most of their nightly news broadcasts to the murder. Anchors, reporters and studio guests have combed over every detail of the killing. There were archival scenes of Alperon joking with reporters; with one of his brothers at a Likud central committee meeting; scenes from the attempted killings of another brother, and one of Ya'acov professing that he was retired from the mob. Then it was back to shots of the crime scene - a wrecked car, a bloodied Alperon slumped head-first from the passenger side into the gutter. The morning tabloids have devoted much of their news pages to the murder. Would there be an underworld war? Why did police fail to protect Alperon? And more to the point, would ordinary citizens be jeopardized in gangland violence? At least two passers-by were wounded in the Alperon hit. The press was there in force on Tuesday at the Kfar Nachman cemetery in Ra'anana as hundreds of family members - biological as well as criminal - came to pay their final respects. His widow cried that she had been left to raise seven orphans, one of whom declared that the killer "won't have a grave, because I'll cut off his arms, his head, his legs." PURELY BY coincidence, that night, a local cable station screened (for the umpteenth time) the 1972 Godfather movie with its own dramatic funeral scene in which Sal Tessio betrays Michael Corleone to the Barzini family. Unlike the pedestrian Israeli hoodlums, the fictitious mafia dons created by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola were mostly men of honor. When their soldiers killed each other, they made sure not to harm innocent "civilians." Israeli mobsters don't walk in the footsteps of Don Corleone, Pete Clemenza or Tom Hagen. They have no honor, no decency. In June, Yoram Hacham, the lawyer for crime figure Asi Abutbul, was blown up in his car in Tel Aviv. In August, Marguerita Lautin was murdered while she sat with her husband and children on a Bat Yam beach. And hours after Alperon's burial, a bomb was discovered outside the police station - and next to a kindergarten - in Ramle, where investigators were trying to solve the killing. On the bright side, many of the established families are disintegrating either because their chieftains have been wiped out in intramural killings or because of pressure from law-enforcement. Younger family members are known more for their brawn than their brains. Which explains why Israeli prisons are already holding some 500 inmates with ties to organized crime. For the time being, the Alperons fight the Kedoshims for control of the Herzliya marina; the Ohanas over gambling in Kfar Saba; the Abergils over the recycling industry, and the Abutbuls over the seamier side of Netanya. THE TRUTH is, organized crime has been a blight for decades. Back in 1977 a crusading young MK named Ehud Olmert made the headlines by probing the underworld. Even then the cars of criminal kingpins were being blown up, there were fears that the police had been infiltrated by the mafia, and a committee charged with looking into the "crisis" blamed disrespect for the law and a developing subculture of criminality. Israelis have gone from debating whether there is organized crime to practically glorifying it. Of course we in the media need to report on the killing of a mafia boss in broad daylight on a busy street. But can't we do it in a way that doesn't make heroes of thugs? Society's message must be that those who join the underworld are to be shunned, shamed and marginalized - not vicariously celebrated.