Prosecutors seek to use new ‘protection law’ against criminal suspect in north

Rami Ismail, who was arrested earlier this month, could be the first person charged under new legislation that sets minimum prison sentences for such shakedowns

Police arrest Rami Ismail (left) near Kiryat Shmona on August 11, 2023, on suspicion of extortion attempts. (Israel Police)
Police arrest Rami Ismail (left) near Kiryat Shmona on August 11, 2023, on suspicion of extortion attempts. (Israel Police)

About a month after it was passed into law by the Knesset, new legislation is expected to be utilized to help prosecute a major crime figure suspected of running a protection racket in the north.

Rami Ismail, a resident of Tuba-Zangariyye, was arrested two weeks ago after threatening a construction site manager in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona that he must pay protection money if he does not want the building site — a hospital project — to be vandalized. The manager instead called the police, and Ismail was arrested.

Prosecutors informed the Tiberias Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday that they intend to charge Ismail with blackmail, threats and obstruction of justice. They also requested that he be held in custody until the end of proceedings. His remand was extended through at least Sunday.

Prosecutors are said to be aiming to utilize legislation passed earlier this year which mandates a minimum three-year prison sentence for criminals convicted of protection rackets. The law also allows the court to seize funds it believes stemmed from such behavior even before a conviction.

According to the Ynet news site, Ismail was convicted in 2019 of similar crimes but received just a few months behind bars.

Police said he is a a well-known crime figure in the area, who has been threatening business owners for more than a decade. Upon his arrest — and once again on Wednesday — police requested that other victims come forward, although they believe many are too afraid to speak out.

Illustrative: View of a construction site in the city of Gedera, February 3, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

“The Israel Police is calling on the public not to give into protection racket attempts, and to report every suspect to the police, who will dispatch forces to the scene,” police said in a statement on Wednesday. “Surrendering to extortionists does not guarantee any safety, and will only deepen and continue such blackmail.”

A wave of violent crime is currently sweeping through the Arab community in Israel, with at least 156 members of the community killed in such incidents so far this year.

Many of those killed have been caught up in turf wars between known organized crime families, many of which operate protection rackets.

Authorities have long been calling on the Shin Bet security agency to step into the fight against crime in the Arab community, but some law enforcement officials have objected.

National Security Itamar Ben Gvir, whose ministry oversees the police, has been accused of doing little to staunch the crime wave since he took office late last year. Ben Gvir has sought to provide police with the power to carry out administrative detention against such suspects, holding them without charge — a practice he opposes using against Jewish terror suspects — but has been blocked from doing so.

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