Hundreds of demonstrators blocked a main Jerusalem road Saturday night to protest the arrest of a popular rabbi several days earlier. At least eight people were arrested.
Another protest took place in Ashkelon, where dozens of ultra-Orthodox men demonstrated against the arrest of Rabbi Yoram Abergel, who police suspect arranged for an underworld crime figure to threaten supporters of a mayoral candidate in Netivot.
The protests came several days after thousands of people rioted in the southern town of Netivot over the arrest, setting cars on fire and clashing with police.
In Jerusalem hundreds of ultra-Orthodox rallied on Bar-Ilan Street, and Ashkelon dozens demonstrated near the city’s sports hall.
Abergil 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 rabbi” 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.
On Thursday, hundreds held demonstrations in Netivot and in Lod opposite the headquarters of the police’s fraud unit, which is investigating the case.
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