Riots broke out Thursday in the southern city of Netivot as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in protest over a court ruling extending the remand of a local rabbi suspected of aiding the attempted extortion of a local kabbalist, or mystic, during the recent municipal elections.
Some of the protesters blocked the main entrance to the town, while others set car tires on fire, Ynet reported.
Rabbi Yoram Abergel was arrested earlier this week after police intercepted a phone call between his personal assistant and the suspected head of an organized crime group, Shalom Dumrani, who was also apprehended by police.
According to the police, Abergel asked Dumrani to extort and threaten supporters of Netivot mayoral candidate Eyal Mesika, among them Rabbi Ya’akov Ifergan, an influential kabbalist, or mystic, also known by his followers as “the X-ray” for his supposed supernatural insights.
Mesika lost his bid to unseat longtime incumbent mayor Yehiel Zohar.
On Wednesday, the Lod District Court ordered Abergel placed under house arrest, but a police appeal convinced the court to extend his remand in police custody until Sunday.
Abergel’s attorneys denied the allegations against him and claimed Abergel was not aware of any exchange between Dumrani and Ifergan.
Dumrani, a suspected head of a local criminal organization, was a staunch supporter of the longtime mayor, Zohar. But Ifergan has refused to support Zohar due to disagreements with the municipality over building permits for religious institutions run by Ifergan.
Ifergan is no stranger to the perils of organized crime in the south. In 2011, he allegedly faced threats from associates of Baruch Abuchatzeira, known locally as the Baba Baruch.