Rabbi Yoram Abergel
Following the arrest of southern mob kingpin Shalom Domrani and six of his men, police arrested a well known Rabbi Yoram Abergel from Netivot on Sunday on the suspicion he was involved in extortion done by Domrani's organization in an alleged attempt to influence the municipal elections in Netivot, Israel Radio reported.
Abergel's remand was extended by four days.
Abergel is suspected of extortion and vote tampering. Police claim that during the last municipal elections in Netivot, Abergel and fellow accomplices extorted several campaign aides working with mayoral candidate Eyal Messika.
The rabbi's lawyer, Attorney Menachem Rubinstein, said during the hearing that "the timing of the arrest is part of the police's attempt to prove to the public they are doing something," hinting at the recent public outcry against organized crime activities.
Domrani and several of his men were arrested on Saturday night for allegedly threatening rabbis, including the well-known Rabbi Yaakov Ifergan, who backed mayoral candidate Eyal Messika against Domrani and Abergel's favorite, long-time Mayor Yehiel Zohar.
Police suspect Domrani of damaging property, obstructing the elections, obstructing legal procedures and extortion.
The arrest of the Rabbi Abergel came as a shock to many. The rabbi is considered one of the senior figures in Sephardic rabbinical circles and heads a Talmud studies network with thousands of students.
"Arrest the rabbi? The police have gone crazy," said one of the rabbi's followers.
The rabbi's arrest reignited the struggle between rival rabbinical followings in Netivot, which vie for power in the small southern city, though some say Abergel's influence has in recent years eclipsed that of his nemesis, Ifergan. "Rabbi Ifergan is very well known on the national scene, but Rabbi Abergel has more power in the local," a source involved in local politics said.
Zohar, who won the elections, and Messika denied any knowledge of Domrani and of extortion attempts related to the elections.
An associate of Rabbi Ifergan told Ynet that "now police are hounding Domrani and can accuse him even of natural disasters if they need to.
The rabbi was not threatened personally nor extorted. It's more probable that his employees and ground-level men were threatened. It was a very intense campaign. Rabbis in Netivot welcome everyone, even criminals."