Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Life

Gangs of Tel Aviv

In its most impressive feat since its recent launch, Tablet magazine has just closed out a long series on the Israeli mob after a five-day run.

The piece was smartly adapted to Tablet’s online-only format by appearing in short installments over the course of a week — like the old newspaper serials — and accompanied by some evocative black-and-white images. “Holy Land Gangland,” as the piece is titled, does what so much of journalism strives for, by taking you inside an unknown world and decoding it; in this case, the first installment literally goes inside the gritty offices of a Tel Aviv loan shark, where the scene is set:

Glaring in the background were the monitors of a closed-circuit surveillance system, showing four different camera angles on the approach to the office. We sipped espresso, and every few minutes a new face would be buzzed inside, his hand full of shekel notes.

The series’ subject and writer are well matched — given Douglas Century’s past writing on American gangs and Jewish pugilists. It turns out that among the young Israeli mobsters, “kickboxing gyms are the hang-out — and stress reliever — of choice.”

But kickboxing is old school. Century finds out that Israeli’s mafia is entering a new era of indiscriminate violence:

While rarely reported about outside of Israel, the new generation of criminals, young and ruthless, are emerging as the country’s biggest homegrown menace.

Century doesn’t just give the curious and chilling facts, such as the frequent use of ultra-Orthodox garb to camouflage drug running and assassinations, or the creation of Israel’s first witness protection program. He also digs for the societal causes of the violence and pins the blame on the rapid privatization and rise of inequality in Israel over the last two decades. It all comes out sounding depressingly like post-Soviet Russia in the 1990s. But in Israel, the story is not nearing an end.

A message from our editor-in-chief Jodi Rudoren

We're building on 127 years of independent journalism to help you develop deeper connections to what it means to be Jewish today.

With so much at stake for the Jewish people right now — war, rising antisemitism, a high-stakes U.S. presidential election — American Jews depend on the Forward's perspective, integrity and courage.

—  Jodi Rudoren, Editor-in-Chief 

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.