Rabbi Yoram Abergel, a popular rabbi who was arrested on suspicion of extortion last week, was released to house arrest on Sunday. Abergel, whose detention set off protests in his hometown Netivot, as well as in Jerusalem and Ashkelon, will be held for 15 days in a location outside the town.
Police suspect Abergel arranged for an underworld crime figure to threaten supporters of a mayoral candidate in Netivot during last month’s municipal elections.
Immediately after his arrest, thousands of people rioted in Netivot, setting cars on fire and clashing with police. On Saturday night, at least eight people were arrested as hundreds of demonstrators blocked Bar-Ilan Street, a main Jerusalem thoroughfare, to protest Abergel’s arrest. Another protest took place in Ashkelon, near the city’s sports center, where dozens of ultra-Orthodox men demonstrated against the arrest.
Abergel was arrested early last 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 arrested in the case.
According to the authorities, 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 had ordered Abergel to be released to 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 district fraud unit of the police, 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 he leads.