Itzhak Soprano

Darna, in Jerusalem, will never be confused with Sparks Steakhouse in Mid-Town Manhattan. Umberto’s clamhouse in Little Italy is no Olive Leaf, Tel Aviv, and the King David Hotel, is, thankfully, not the Park Sheraton Hotel. But somehow, Israel is becoming increasingly tarnished by organized crime “hits” and attempted murders. Drugs, extortion, and prostitution, once diseases unknown in Israel, are becoming more common thanks to several large crime families considered the “Israeli Mafia.” And while these wonderful Israeli businesses have not been the location of famous rub-outs, organized crime in the Holy Land is becoming more brazen in its use of violence such as car bombings and drive-by assassinations.

It is commonly accepted that the Israeli mafia is composed of 6 national “families” and 11 smaller ones. The leading criminal activities have been gambling, car theft, drugs, money laundering, extortion and diamond smuggling. Perhaps at the heart of the growth of Israeli organized crime is the existence of the Russian Mob, a formidable criminal enterprise in the United States as well. Some of the roots of the modern American mafia can be traced to Jewish ancestors as well. Meyer Lansky, a jew from New York’s lower east side, has frequently been credited with helping formulate the modern mafia in America along with boyhood pal Charles “Lucky” Luciano, of Sicilian descent.

The roots of the modern Israeli mafia, however, can be traced to the destruction of the Former Soviet Union and the influx of Russian immigration into Israel in the early 1990s. In addition to Russian roots, Israeli organized crime can also follows its ancestors to Morocco and Northern African families. Some of these families exported their criminal enterprises into New York, for example, and scored a 4 million dollar gold heist, said to be the largest in history. Israelis have also been said to be in the ecstasy business with former Gambino underboss Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, who came to fame serving John Gotti. Currently, Israeli organized crime has attempted to infiltrate legitimate businesses and government agencies. Tremendous amounts of money have been laundered and paid in black-mail schemes and extortion.

Perhaps more concerning to Israeli officials and citizens is the proliferation of violence effecting not only the criminals, but ordinary Israelis, including young women and children. Law enforcement from the US has joined with Israeli officials (Public Security Ministry) in some cases for joint prosecutions or extraditions. But despite these concerted international efforts, organized crime events in Israel seem to be increasing. Moreover, there is no effective Israeli version of the American RICO statute used so successfully to combat organized crime, nor a “Donnie Brasco,” who can enter the syndicate in an undercover role.

So evidently, until the Israeli authorities develop similar devices, laws and legal mechanisms, Israeli society will have to cope with its own Soprano families on the streets of Tel Aviv.

About the Author
Adjunct professor of criminal justice at George Mason university. Practicing attorney with undergraduate degree in journalism. Seasoned print and broadcast journalist. Married with two daughters. Member of conservative shul in Fairfax, Va.