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Israeli Mafia 2

Shchunat Hatikvah


 Jewish Crime Kingpin  Meyer Lansky

This is the fifth and final installment in a five-part series about organized crime in Israel. Click here to read Part I, here to read Part II, here to read Part III, and here to read Part IV.

On a quiet, affluent block in Mill Basin, Brooklyn, I joined Ilan, my guide to the Israeli crime world, on a visit to Oved, now retired from the “life” but once a high-ranking member of the Alperon crime organization.  Oved is another product of Hatikvah, the rough neighborhood in the south of Tel Aviv where so many of Israel’s mobsters grew up, a tough who used to train and spar with Ilan in the Mejiro gym in South Tel Aviv before the gym, mysteriously, burned to the ground. He used to work as a lieutenant to mob boss Nissim Alperon, he told us, but decided to leave Israel for good after one of many assassination attempt on his former boss’s life.

We sat in his typically New York living room—sleek Swedish furniture, wall-mounted flat-screen TV, scattered remote controls—as Oved waxed poetic on the old underworld code.

“We always used to say, ‘Who controls Hatikvah controls Israel,’ Oved said. “Not Anymore.”

As we talked, the former mobster was showing his two daughters how to use an orange plastic golf putter on the plush living room carpet, gently stroking their hair. He had piercing slate-gray eyes, a shaved head, and the lean, sinewy build of a soccer midfielder. Only the battle-scarred knuckles and the knotted cords of muscle in his forearms give any hint at his serious martial arts training.

Nowadays, however, such training matters very little. Long gone are the days when an Israeli gangster like Oved could rely on gym-honed fighting techniques to strike fear into enemies on the street. Death these days comes via remote-controlled car bomb, or in the form of a motorcycle-riding assassin toting a silencer-equipped Sig Sauer handgun.

The authorities, of course, are doing their best to quell the violence. In the aftermath of mob boss Ya’akov Alperon’s assassination last November, the Israeli police began taking unprecedented steps to keep the underworld from devolving into a massive shooting war, arresting major mob bosses on relatively innocuous charges like unlicensed possession of firearms. Last December, for example, dozens of cops closed off entire blocks in Ramat Gan’s Diamond Exchange area and raided a restaurant where Nissim Alperon, Ya’akov’s brother and the family’s new boss, was dining with his lieutenants. The raid provided scant evidence–only a single unlicensed gun was found on the premises–but it gave police sufficient ground to arrest Alperon and his men for a while