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Encyclopedia Judaica:
Crime


Issues in Jewish Ethics: Table of Contents | Jewish Ethics | Business Ethics

INTRODUCTION

Jews in the Diaspora have generally been less involved in crime than the populations among which they lived. Their closely knit communities, cohesive family life, high educational standards, moderation in the consumption of alcohol, their solidarity, consciousness of mutual responsibility, and readiness for mutual help are regarded as the main causes for the generally low crime rates among Jews.

There are only a few countries where official crime statistics were recorded and published separately for Jews and non-Jews in certain periods. The limited data available – ranging from Czarist Russia prior to World War I to modern Canada – point to certain unmistakable trends. In the first place, crime rates were lowest where Jews were discriminated against and increased after Emancipation. Second, crimes committed by Jewish offenders were generally different in character in countries of discrimination and persecution from those committed by members of the dominant population groups. The more the Jews became emancipated and were enabled to participate in social, economic, and cultural life, the more the crimes committed by them became similar to those of the majority population.

In Czarist Russia, a country notorious for its discrimination against the Jewish minority, the conviction rate for Jews in 1907 was only about 67.5% of that for the dominant population group, while in Poland, another country where the overwhelming majority of the Jews lived in poverty and oppression, the ratio in 1937 was 63.9%. In Central Europe, Germany, Austria, and Hungary, the extent of criminality among Jews was somewhat higher. In Hungary, where the Jews were enjoying an ever-growing share in economic, social, and cultural life, the yearly average between 1909 and 1913 was 76.5%. Among German Jewry, from 1882 to 1910, when it had achieved formal emancipation and became the wealthiest and best educated Jewish community of the period, the crime rate rose from 76% to 91.7% of that for non-Jews. In Austria, in 1898, the ratio was 90%. Jacob *Lestschinsky notes that in 1918 the conviction rate for Austrian Jews was about 50% higher than for the poorer and less acculturated Jewish community of Galicia. Crime statistics for Nazi Germany in the mid-1930s seem to show that there is an inverse correlation between participation of Jews in crime and in the life of the country where they reside. However, after deducting the very high conviction rates of Jews for "racial pollution," passport exchange and industrial offenses – all results of discriminatory Nazi legislation – Jewish conviction rates for all other offenses combined were only about 30% those for non-Jews. In the Netherlands, where Jews enjoyed genuine emancipation and equality for centuries, the crime rate for Jews, which was only 67.7% in 1902, was about equal to that of the general population in 1931–33.

With the exception of Canada, no separate criminal statistics are available for most of the democratic countries, where Jews are fully emancipated. The United States' census does not register crimes committed by Jews. The only relevant data available for the United States are some prison statistics; but there the participation of Jews in crime appears to be even lower than elsewhere, as the more dangerous criminals are sent to prison, while Jews generally commit offenses of less severity. In the ten-year period 1920–29, 6,846 Jews, on the average, were imprisoned annually in the United States – 1.74% of the total of 394,080 convicted offenders. As Jews constituted 3.5% of the population at the time, their share in the more serious offenses, which were punished with imprisonment, was therefore about 50% of the general ratio. Imprisonment figures for New York and Los Angeles confirm these findings. In the early years of the 20th century, Jews represented 17–18% of the population of New York City; the percentage of Jewish prisoners was 9.2% in 1902, 9.4% in 1903, and 14.7% in 1904. In 1947, Jews made up 4.7% of the prison population in New York State, about a quarter of their share in the population. In Los Angeles, while the Jewish share in the population rose from 5.8% in 1933 to 11.9% in 1947, their share in 15 out of 18 offense groups – including murder, burglary, robbery, assault, and sex crimes – ranged from 2.8% to 3.9%. The situation has been similar in Canada. The Jewish population in the province of Quebec, where the great majority of Canadian Jews live, is 2.5% of the total, while their share in the penitentiary population during the last three decades has been never more than 1%.

In Tunisia the share of the Jews in the prison population was 60% of their share in the total population in 1939, and only 21% in 1965. (According to André Chouraqui, the situation was similar in Algeria and Morocco.) The data about the United States and Tunisia show that two Jewish populations – one wealthy, emancipated, well acculturated, and living in an affluent society, and the other generally poor, culturally segregated, and living in a backward country in conditions of oppression and discrimination – are both equally underrepresented among the prison population of their countries and commit proportionally fewer serious crimes. Not less significant is the fact that when anti-Jewish persecution and discrimination increased in Tunisia following the establishment of the State of Israel, crime among Jews declined still further. This seems to support the assumption that criminality among Jews increases with the measure of their emancipation.

Soon after the establishment of the State of Israel, it came as a surprise that Jews committed serious offenses, including murder, rape, and burglary, in their own country. It seems that the full freedom had also resulted in crime to an extent and of a character not known before in modern Jewish history. This seems to suggest that normalization of life in general also results in a "normalization" of the extent of deviant behavior. However, given the continuing rise of crime in Israel (see below), and particularly violent crime, in the post-Six Day War period, it may be suggested that the erosion of two particular psychological barriers has also been a decisive factor, namely, the Zionist ethos and, especially among Eastern Jews, the values of the traditional Jewish home.

IN THE DIASPORA

Offenses Against the Person

In all countries of the Diaspora, Jews committed proportionately far fewer offenses against the person than did non-Jews; their share in homicide was the smallest of all. This phenomenon was generally explained by the higher educational level of the Jews and their very moderate consumption of alcohol. In Europe before World War II, the share of Jews in cases of physical assault increased proceeding from east to west. In Russia, in 1907, Jewish convictions for aggressive crimes were about 25% of the corresponding rates for non-Jews, while in Poland in 1937 the proportion was about 55%. On the other hand, of the overall figure in Germany, taking the average for 1899–1902, Jewish participation in offenses against the person was 71.4% and in the Netherlands about 70% from 1931 to 1933. Arthur Ruppin showed that the figures for the city of Amsterdam alone were even higher, and he ascribes this to the existence of a sizeable Jewish working class employed in industries owned mainly by Jews. Thus it seems that where Jews had achieved the highest measure of emancipation and equality, Jewish laborers behaved more like other working-class people.

Statistics show that on the North American continent, in the United States and Canada, convictions for assault among Jews are very low. This was explained by the fact that a generation or two after immigration, Jews had moved up to the middle class, where such aggressive behavior is less common. The same, however, applies to Jews in North Africa, who were very rarely imprisoned for physical assault, despite the fact that the great majority were impoverished and uneducated. Oppression and discrimination obviously cause Jews to contain their aggressive urges. This seems to confirm views expressed by Gustav Aschaffenburg and others that the position of the Jews as a closely knit minority group served as a crime-preventing agency, since potential offenders were constantly aware of the danger that deviant behavior by an individual could pose for the group as a whole.

Offenses Against Morality

Jews were generally less involved in aggressive offenses against morality than non-Jews: least in Eastern Europe, somewhat more in Germany, and more again in the Netherlands. United States prison statistics and Canadian offender statistics also point to the very low rates for sex offenses among Jews. Prison statistics in Tunisia, however, show that in 1955, when Jews were only 1.7% of the general population, Jewish women represented 2% of the "filles en cartes," or prostitutes. This is an indication of the fact that where Jewish offenders belong to the poverty class, they tend to commit offenses characteristic of such populations. In some countries, however, convictions for nonaggressive offenses against morality, such as brothel-keeping, were proportionally more numerous among Jews than among non-Jews. In the previously Austrian part of Poland, the ratio was 228% during 1924–25 and in Germany during 1899–1902 it was 127%. In the latter years, conviction rates among German Jews for "diffusion of immoral writings" were 260% of those of non-Jews. All this seems to indicate that Jews in the Diaspora were more represented in commercial offenses against morality than non-Jews. Experts explain this by the fact that Jews lived mainly in urban centers and engaged in commerce.

Offenses Against Property

The participation of Jews in the common crimes against property in the Diaspora was generally still lower than their share in offenses against the person. It was lowest in Poland, where in 1937 conviction rates for Jews were only 20% of those for non-Jews (though it is possible that thefts committed by Jews within the closely knit Jewish communities were not always reported to the hated Polish police), while in Germany, from 1882 to 1916, the ratio ranged from 30% to 40%. In the Netherlands the rates were again the highest – 97.6% of those for non-Jews in the years 1931 to 1933. In the United States and Canada Jewish participation in common crimes against property was always very low. In Los Angeles, for example, it was only about one-third of the proportion of Jews in the general population during the period 1933–1947, while in Canada (1936–37) convictions of Jews were only about two-thirds, proportionally, of the general figure. In North Africa, the participation of Jews in property offenses was much lower than that of non-Jews. Contrary to the situation in Europe and America, however, theft and drunkenness were the offenses most often committed by Jews in North Africa. Chouraqui observes that they constituted almost all the offenses with which Tunisian, Moroccan, and Algerian Jews were charged in 1948.

Fraud

False pretenses, forgery, and fraud are offenses in which Jews in the Diaspora were often overrepresented. In Russia in 1907, conviction rates for "commercial swindlers" were 143%, while in Poland in 1937 rates for fraud were 137%, and for forgery 143% of those for non-Jews, while in Germany the ratio ranged during the years 1882 to 1916 from 183% to 217%. In the Netherlands, the average for 1901–09 was 160%, rising in the period 1931–33 to 249%. In Canada the adjusted conviction rates for fraud, comparing the urban populations only, are 160%. The higher conviction rates for "commercial" offenses are generally ascribed to the much higher proportion of Diaspora Jews than the non-Jewish population in commerce and in urban areas. In Germany, for example, there were proportionately about five times as many Jews as non-Jews, and in Poland about 20 times as many, in commerce. In Poland, between 1924 and 1937, fraud and forgery represented about 21% of all offenses committed by Jews. In Germany between 1882 and 1901 these offenses were about 13%, and in the Netherlands from 1931 to 1933 only about 5%, of all offenses committed by Jews. Thus, proceeding from east to west – from conditions of discrimination in Poland to those of emancipation in Germany and still further west to the Netherlands – the proportion of fraudulent behavior in all offenses decreased and crime among the Jews became more similar to that of the majority populations.

Offenses Against Public Order and State Security

In offenses against public order, the participation of Diaspora Jews is generally different from that of the non-Jews. In countries where Jews were discriminated against, their share is greater, while in countries of emancipation it is proportionally smaller. Thus, the conviction rates of Jews for these offenses seem to be a reflection of their treatment by governments and dominant populations. In Russia in 1907, when Jews were 4% of the population, they accounted for 17.1% of offenses against the security of the state and public order, including the circumvention of discriminatory anti-Jewish laws – over four times their due share. In Poland (1924 to 1937) such offenses represented 43.6% of all the violations committed by Jews. In Germany (1899 to 1902), on the other hand, they were only 25%, and in the Netherlands (1931 to 1933) only 6.2%, of all offenses committed by Jews. (The very low figure for the Netherlands is somewhat distorted because the available statistics include only the more serious offenses against the state, in which Jews were rarely represented.)

IN PALESTINE (BEFORE 1948)

From the First Aliyah (1882) to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, crime figures in the yishuv were extremely low for all types of offenses. As it was only during the last years of its existence that the mandatory government of Palestine published separate statistics for the different communities, figures for 1940, 1943, and 1945 give some indication of the incidence of criminality among Jews in Palestine. (See Table 1: Conviction Rates in Palestine shows the crime rates for Jews and non-Jews in Palestine.) The table shows that in 1940 conviction rates of Jews were only 51.4%; in 1943, 29.4%; and in 1945, 25.7% of those among non-Jews. The very low criminality rates obviously reflect the largely idealistic and pioneering character of the yishuv.

The general decrease in crime among Jews and the coincident increase among non-Jews should also be seen against the background of World War II. Most young Jews served in the army or the *Haganah , which reduced the number of potential offenders in the Jewish civilian population. Non-Jews

Table 1. Conviction Rates Per Thousand of the Population for Jews and non-Jews in Palestine, 1940, 1943, 1945 Table 1. Conviction Rates Per Thousand of the Population for Jews and non-Jews in Palestine, 1940, 1943, 1945

Year Jews non-Jews Ratio Jews: non-Jews
1940 7.1 13.8 1:1.9
1943 5.0 17.0 1:3.4
1945 5.5 21.3 1:3.9

generally did not join the forces, but many of them worked in military camps as laborers, often far from the social control of their families and communities.

IN THE STATE OF ISRAEL

The First Decades

The entire structure of crime among Jews changed rapidly with the evolution of the new society in the State of Israel. Practically no feature that had been regarded as characteristic of criminality among Jews in the Diaspora appeared in Israel's criminal statistics. The common offenses against the person – such as assault, physical injury, and homicide – and against property – such as theft and burglary – which in the Diaspora were less frequently committed by Jews, account for the overwhelming majority of convictions of Jews in Israel. It seems that crime became, as E. Durkheim expressed it, one of the normal expressions of life in society. This normalization is also reflected in the fact that fraud and forgery, which had constituted in Poland about 21%, in Germany about 13%, and

Table 2. Jewish Adult Offenders in Israel, 19511965 Table 2. Jewish Adult Offenders in Israel, 1951–1965

Offenses 1951 1952 Average 1956–65
All Offenses Total 6,222 9,600
Rate per 1,000 7.456 10.655 10.129
Percentage (100%) (100%) (100%)
Against Public Order Total 568 1,084
Rate per 1,000 0.685 1.203 2.870
Percentage (9.2%) (11.2%) (28.4%)
Against the Person Total 1,434 2,124
Rate per 1,000 1.717 2.356 2.894
Percentage (23.1%) (22.2%) (28.5%)
Against Morality Total 138 142
Rate per 1,000 0.165 0.158 0.267
Percentage (2.2%) (1.5%) (2.6%)
Against Property Total 2,898 4,284
Rate per 1,000 3.470 4.755 3.144
Percentage (46.5%) (44.7%) (31.6%)
Fraud and Forgery Total 120 154
Rate per 1,000 0.143 0.171 0.312
Percentage (1.9%) (1.6) (3.1%)
Economic Offenses Total 814 1,464
Rate per 1,000 0.974 1.625 0.226
Percentage (13.1%) (15.2%) (2.1%)
Administrative and Fiscal Offenses Total 250 348
Rate per 1,000 0.299 0.386 0.414
Percentage (4.0%) (3.6%) (3.9%)

in the Netherlands about 5% of all Jewish crime, made up only 3.1% in Israel (the average for the years 1956–65).

Another feature of crime in Israel is the fact that after an initial rise of about 30% – from 7.5 to 10.6 per thousand of the total population during the first years of mass immigration (1948 to 1952) – the crime rates for the Jewish population did not rise for over a decade. The average crime rate for Jewish adults from 1956 to 1965 was 10.1 per thousand. In spite of the upheavals and tensions accompanying Israel's birth, including the mass immigration of diverse ethnic groups, crime in Israel is relatively moderate in extent and characterized by the absence of brutal and ruthless offenses.

The changed physiognomy of crime in Israel, as shown in Table 2: Jewish Adult Offenders, is probably a consequence of the radical change in the occupational structure of the Jews.

A study of specific offenses committed by Jews and non-Jews in Israel will illustrate this further. (Figures given are conviction rates per thousand of the adult population concerned.)

Offenses Against the Person

The rates for all offenses against the person were on the average 2.9 among Jews and 8.8 among Arabs. The rates for homicide, rarely committed by Jews in the Diaspora, remained relatively moderate among Jews in Israel: 0.4 on the average for the years 1951 to 1965. Of the homicides, 34% were due to matrimonial and other emotional conflicts, 25% resulted from quarrels between neighbors and business partners, 14% were committed in the course of robbery and 8% during quarrels among criminals, 3% were connected with "family honor" in traditional Oriental families; 15% were committed for various other motives. Aggressive offenses involving bodily harm were 7.0% of all offenses against the person in 1964 and only 5.7% in 1965, which confirms the impression that crime among Jews in Israel is still less violent and brutal than in many other countries. Offenses against the Dangerous Drug Laws were rare: about 0.1 per thousand Jews and 0.2 for Arabs. There were 133 cases among Jews in 1964 and 135 in 1965. In most cases the offenders were immigrants from North Africa, Asia, and the Levant who acquired the drug habit in their countries of origin but did not pass them on to the next generation in Israel. Among the emerging class of habitual offenders in Israel, however, there were some who used drugs, trafficked in them, or induced others to become addicted in order to exploit them.

Offenses Against Morality

Offenses against morality were never characteristic of Jews in the Diaspora, and in Israel the conviction rates are also low – e.g., 0.29 for Jews and 0.45 for Arabs in 1964, a typical year. There were very few serious and brutal sex crimes, only 2.6% of all offenses against morality during the years 1956 to 1965. There were only eight convictions of rape or attempted rape in 1963, nine in 1964, and six in 1965. Most of the offenses against morality consisted of "indecent behavior," generally against minors. Cases of brothel-keeping and soliciting were also relatively few: 41 in 1963, 67 in 1964, and 59 in 1965.

Offenses Against Property

The common offenses against property are the most widespread. The rates were 3.13 among Jews on the average for the ten years 1956 to 1965 and 8.77 among Arabs, taking the average for five alternate years from 1956 to 1964. Theft from the person, which in some European countries was sometimes described as a "typically Jewish" offense, is rare in Israel and growing rarer: there were 44 convictions in 1951, and only 37 in 1965, when the Jewish population was almost twice as great. On the other hand, a class of habitual burglars is clearly emerging: there were 379 convictions in 1963, 468 in 1964, and 501 in 1965. Robbery, which entails direct contact with the victim, physical attack, and a threat to his life, is, however, comparatively rare: there were 7 cases in 1963, 9 in 1964, and only 3 in 1965. It seems that even the habitual criminal in Israel shies away from this aggressive form of offense against property.

Offenses Against Public Order and the Authority of the State

Offenses against public order and the authority of the state represent somewhat more than a quarter of all offenses committed by Jews and just over half among Arabs. This greater representation of Arabs is partly due to the political situation, Arabs being often convicted for illegal border crossings and other offenses connected with the emergency regulations. Violent disturbances of the peace in Israel make up more than half the total of offenses against public order – a very different situation from that in the Diaspora, where Jews are not generally involved in such behavior. Many of these violations have been aggressive acts committed against public servants, mainly due to the tensions arising out of mass immigration and absorption problems. All the other offenses in this main category are much less frequent in Israel than in the Diaspora. Evasion of military service is very rare. Corruption and abuse of office do not constitute a serious problem, but the public is deeply disturbed at the thought that they are committed at all, even if only occasionally. An average of 24.2 individuals per year were convicted for such offenses during the ten-year period from 1956 to 1965, and they have been on the decline in recent years: there were 33 cases in 1962, but only 19 in 1963, 18 in 1964, and 15 in 1965.

Share of Different Immigrant Groups

Statistics indicate considerable differences between the crime rates for those born in North Africa, Asia, and Europe, respectively. (See Table 3: Jewish Adult Offenders). The conviction rates for the various ethnic groups show that these differences

Table 3. Jewish Adult Offenders in Israel, 1959 and 1965, by Place of Birth (per thousand of population group concerned) Table 3. Jewish Adult Offenders in Israel, 1959 and 1965, by Place of Birth (per thousand of population group concerned)

Year Israel Asia Africa Europe and America
1959 10.185 13.580 22.607 4.812
1965 11.088 12.595 22.601 4.272

have been fairly consistent during the first years of the State of Israel.

S.N. Eisenstadt, in his study, The Absorption of Immigrants (1954), has pointed to some of the factors which may explain the differences in deviant behavior between European and Oriental Jews in Israel. The European immigrants, particularly in the earlier years, were inspired by the ideal of Jewish labor – the desire to engage in basic productive occupations in agriculture, industry, and public works – which implies a readiness for occupational change and a striving to create a new society based on social justice. The Orientals, on the other hand, hoped "to be able to follow more fully and securely their own way of life" (pp. 93–94) after their immigration. Thus they were not consciously prepared for radical changes in their economic and occupational way of life.

This situation was aggravated by the fact that the Oriental Jewish communities were composed mostly of a small wealthy and educated class and great masses of the poor and uneducated. The latter, due to lack of education and training, were unable immediately to make good use of the opportunities offered by Israel's expanding society and economy. Some of them resented the pioneering, vitally necessary work they were offered in distant development areas in afforestation, agriculture, road construction and the like, leaving such areas and moving into slum areas in the urban centers. Thus problems and situations of frustration and tension were created, resulting, in many cases, in crime. But there were great differences in the crime rates among the Oriental Jews themselves, which seem to have been caused mainly by the conditions under which they were absorbed and integrated and the measure in which their expectations and aspirations were fulfilled in daily life.

Asian Immigrants

Crime rates for newcomers from Asian countries are much lower than those for the North African countries, but they are also very similar to each other, in spite of the fact that the immigrants come from extremely different social and cultural conditions. This is particularly noticeable in the case of those from Iraq and the Yemen, respectively. Among the immigrants from Iraq, there is a substantial class of well-educated, wealthy leaders, some of whom had taken an active part in the political, economic, and cultural life in the country of their origin and often even occupied official positions of importance. The Yemenite Jews, on the other hand, had lived, with few exceptions, in a culturally backward country in conditions similar to serfdom. They were regarded as the property of the Imam; they had no political or civil rights and no modern education. These extreme differences, however, seemed to have no influence whatsoever on the crime rates for the two communities in Israel: among the Yemenites 11.5 per thousand in 1956–57 and 10.9 in 1958–60, and among the Iraqis 11.5 and 11.3 respectively.

The common factor seems to be that during the long period of their Diaspora life both communities remained deeply immersed in the lifestream of the Jewish people. Both studied and observed the religious traditions, always felt part of the Jewish people, and after the establishment of the state returned to Israel practically in their entirety (121,512 Iraqis and 45,159 Yemenites) during the very short period between May 1948 and the end of 1951. The fact that they moved to Israel as intact and cohesive communities, with their religious and political leaders, rich and poor, young and old, gave them a sense of mutual responsibility, security and pride, which sustained them through the inevitable difficulties and strains of the initial period.

Though the Iraqis found no substantial community of common origin on their arrival, and there were no officials from Iraq to receive the masses who were transplanted within a couple of years, this highly developed community, with all its trusted leaders and rabbis, intellectuals, wealthy men, doctors, bankers, nurses, and social workers enabled the sick and the dependent to turn for advice, guidance, and support in their own language to their own countrymen, who had soon found positions in hospitals and clinics, labor exchanges, housing and settlement offices, social welfare bureaus, and other agencies concerned with the absorption of immigrants. These conditions substantially helped to lessen absorption problems among the Iraqi immigrants and thus kept crime in this group down to reasonable proportions.

Yemenite Jews had settled in Ereẓ Israel in substantial numbers (about 18,000) in the Ottoman and Mandatory periods, before the entire community of 45,000 was transferred to Israel immediately after its establishment. Although these early immigrants were unable to take up positions of influence in the newly emerging Jewish society, they had certain characteristics and skills which paved the way for smooth integration and speedy absorption after the state had been established. Most of the Yemenite Jews had been artisans and craftsmen, and some had worked on the land. As early as in the 1880s they had made a name for themselves as highly skilled, reliable, and competent workers. Their industry, cleanliness, modesty, and reliability soon made them a respected and welcome element in the pioneering laboring class. There was no need for occupational change; they were easily absorbed into the new social and economic system.

The Yemenites enjoy life in Israel as the fulfillment of their hopes and prayers and feel that they fully belong to its society. These favorable circumstances are obviously the main reason for the low crime rate among them. The similarity of the rates for the Iraqis, many of them wealthy and well educated, and the Yemenites, who came from conditions of backwardness and poverty, seems to indicate that traditional values and, in particular, the cohesiveness and solidarity of the community go a long way to explain the comparatively low crime rates among Jews everywhere. The same principle, from the opposite end, is illustrated by the North African immigrants.

North African Immigrants

Many Jews in the North African French protectorates had taken advantage of the promise of emancipation, equality, and full opportunities for participation in economic and social life offered to them by the French rulers. French became the language of every aspiring Jew and French culture was absorbed by the successful. They acquired the status of French citizens and ceased to cultivate their ethnic and religious autonomy. The younger generations of the better-educated Moroccan, Tunisian, and Algerian Jewish families thus became more and more estranged from Jewry and their own traditions. They took pride in being considered French, which they interpreted as being European. This led to severe disappointment, frustration, and tension when they came to Israel, where they were considered "Oriental" and were confronted with a society formed and led by European Jews with a background different from their own. Moreover, when the time had come for the exodus of the Jews from the North African countries – after they achieved independence and particularly with the establishment of the State of Israel – their political, intellectual, and economic leaders, with isolated exceptions, moved not to Israel but to France. The poor, the helpless, and the uneducated were left to their fate. Many of them had also lost contact with Jewish traditions, but they had been unable to acquire or share in French modern values. Hence many of them had become alienated from their own people and thus lost the moral and material support of group solidarity.

A mere thousand Jews went to Palestine from Morocco between 1919 and 1937; even in the early years of independence, 1948–51, when life in Morocco had become precarious for them, only about 45,000 immigrants came to Israel. The majority of Moroccan immigrants, about 88,000, left between 1955 and 1957, when Morocco had become independent and the Jews were threatened by mob violence. As the immigrants from North Africa consisted almost entirely of the less-educated and unskilled masses, they were unable, at first, to provide recruits for even the lower levels of Israel's political and social leadership. This fact was apparently the basic cause of the overrepresentation of North African Jews in crime in Israel. When 133,000 Moroccan Jews arrived in two waves, in 1948–51 and 1955–57, they found practically no members of their community to receive them and there were not enough educated people among them to be trained in a reasonable time to represent them in the administration and public services. This situation improved greatly with the evolvement of a local leadership in the development areas, particularly with the rapid acculturation of the young through army service and compulsory education, but the newly created slum population in the urban areas, as well as the disintegrating paternalistic structure and authority of the large families, still served as hotbeds of rebellious, antisocial attitudes, which often expressed themselves in crime (see below).

Juvenile Delinquency Before and Since the Establishment of the State

Although no reliable statistics are available on the subject, it is generally assumed that there was little juvenile delinquency among Diaspora Jews. In Mandatory Palestine as well, juvenile delinquency was probably very low, though no detailed statistics were published. During the years 1932–43, when the total Jewish population grew from about 175,000 to about 500,000, the number of juvenile offenders increased from 191 per year (average for 1932–37) to 322.5 per year (average for 1938–43). Among non-Jews the situation appears to have been similar during 1932–37, when differences in the demographic data and development are taken into consideration. During the period 1938–43, however, Arab juvenile delinquency increased by almost 100%, while the Arab population grew by less than 30%. As in the case of adult crime, this growth may be explained by the impact of the war and the opportunities for crime in and around military camps.

In the State of Israel, however, the incidence of juvenile delinquency among Jews started to increase. In 1951, the conviction rates for boys aged 9–16 and girls aged 9–18 were 4.5 per thousand of these age groups, while juvenile delinquency accounted for 12.1% of all crimes committed in Israel. Conviction rates for juveniles grew steadily to 9.8 per thousand in 1965, and juvenile delinquency now represented 23.8% of the crime total.

Of 4,453 young Jewish offenders in 1965, 430 were born in Europe or to European parents in Israel. The conviction rates were 7.4 per thousand for juvenile offenders born in Israel, 11.9 for the Asian-born, 23.0 for those born in North Africa and 3.6 for those born in Europe or America. One of the reasons for these developments has been the transition from one way of life to another. The Oriental family went through a severe crisis after immigration. The authority and functions of the family, and particularly those of the previously authoritative father, were substantially reduced or even shattered, while the young people did not yet feel the security that comes from integration into the new society. Many remained without a compelling system of values or effective social control and lived in a cultural and social vacuum. Most have cast off the yoke of religion and traditions without simultaneously achieving the educational and cultural standards of their peers of European origin. This created painful feelings of frustration and tension, which found expression in these comparatively high crime rates.

Juvenile delinquency among Jews in Israel consisted almost exclusively of offenses against property. Criminality figures for young Arab offenders were about twice those for Jews, and the forms of delinquency were also different. In 1961, for instance, only 46.7% of young Arab offenders committed offenses against property, as against 85.7% for Jewish juveniles. The other crimes were mainly offenses against the person, including acts of aggression resulting in physical injury. Trespassing on agricultural lands and illegal border crossing were also frequent. Arab juvenile delinquency is thus due partly to the traditional behavior patterns characteristic of rural societies in the Middle East and partly to tensions and conflicts arising out of the political situation in the region.

Crime Among Females

Authors always stressed the fact that crime among Jewish females in the Diaspora was very rare; some even claimed that the comparatively low general crime rates for Jews were due to the fact that crime was practically unknown among Jewish women. In Israel there has been only a slight increase in their share in crime, from 8.5% of crimes committed by Jews in 1951 to 13.8% in 1965. Crime rates for Jewish females were 1.3 per thousand in 1951 and 2.9 in 1965. Like the males, Jewish women were mainly convicted for offenses against public order and lawful authority, against the person and against property, the figures for these three types of offense being almost identical. Female juveniles committed mainly property offenses. Offenses against morality were rare: in 1961, a census year, 10 adult females and two juveniles were convicted of such offenses. The largest number of Jewish female offenders committed to prisons since the establishment of the state were sentenced for common theft, followed by disturbances of public order and common assault, including assaults on police officers. These facts also seem to reflect absorption problems in immigrant families, which express their dissatisfaction in aggressive behavior, mostly in governmental or other institutions dealing with public welfare and public health problems. Crime rates for non-Jewish females are somewhat lower than for Jewish ones due to the traditional patterns of the Arab village, where women are generally confined to the home. Offenses committed by non-Jewish females are mostly acts of assault and breach of the peace in public places, often in village feuds between clans. Offenses against morality are very rare among Arab women.

[Zvi Hermon]

After the Six-Day War

An extraordinary rise in crime in Israel was reported in 1966. During that year, the crime rate rose 13.5%, a jump not recorded by the Israel police at any other time during the decade. Two phenomena stand out in particular: growth in the number of robberies; breaking into box offices, booking offices, business firms, and private dwellings; various types of fraud; embezzlement; passing bad checks; and a rise in the crime rate among juveniles, whose share in the general crime rate reached 32.2% in that year.

The year 1966 was the climax of an economic recession, and the rise in offenses against property was possibly a consequence of the depressed condition of the economy. The rise in juvenile crime reflected the prevailing situation in the free world, though gangs of youngsters engaged in organized criminal acts, as found in other developed countries, had not been found in Israel, except small groups, organized ad hoc, for minor crime against property.

The year 1967 was one of war in Israel with the accompanying prewar and postwar periods. It is therefore possible to expect a large rise in crime, if one proceeds from the assumption that war naturally brings with it the collapse of restraints, a withdrawal from lawfulness and order, and a sense of permissiveness toward basic drives and impulses. The actual picture is therefore surprising, for in that year there was a 2.2% decline in crime. This is the only decline in the annual crime rate of the state since its establishment. It is possible that the reason for this decline is inherent in the mobilization – and thus removal from their regular activities – of the entire corpus of manpower, including the criminals; it is also probable that the general sense of danger, and the consciousness of national unity and civil cooperation, were also reasons for the drop.

Immediately afterward, in 1968, the situation returned to normal and there was another rise in the crime rate, this time of 10.6%. A study of the data proves that this percentage is approximately the average for the previous years, with slight fluctuations in both directions; but in comparison with the decline of the previous year, this was a sharp rise. It appears that the main factor behind the rise was the amnesty (albeit selective) declared after the war (July 1967), which set free a large number of criminals from prisons. More important than the widened scope of crime is that, beginning in 1968, the nature of the crimes committed became more serious. Violent crimes, involving the use of firearms and dangerous drugs, grew during that year. It appears that the rise in violent crimes (and not only those involving firearms) is more a reflection of the prevailing situation in most parts of the world, than a consequence of the war. The 1960s, which are sometimes described in other countries as the "Decade of Violence," left their mark on Israel as well. In reference to the use of arms, it is clear that many weapons, much more than in the past, were found in 1968–70 in the hands of citizens to protect their legitimate businesses (legally) and of hundreds of soldiers home on leave. Under such circumstances weapons found their way into the hands of unauthorized persons who used them to commit crimes. These conditions however, are a result of the prolonged emergency situation and only indirectly a result of the war itself.

The disturbing turn in events in the area of drugs after the Six-Day War is also merely an indirect result of the conflict. Many visitors who went to the country after the war – "volunteers" to work on kibbutzim and foreign students – brought with them drug habits and influenced some people of their age group. Another factor, which is also an indirect result of the war, is the fact that the usual routes for smuggling hashish were disrupted between the large supplier – Lebanon – and the large consumer – Egypt – by way of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. As a result, many suppliers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were left with large supplies of hashish and no marketing possibilities. This led to a drop in the prices of illegal drugs in Israel and the country therefore became a source at low prices for acquiring and smuggling hashish, which is more expensive than marijuana. The price in Israel fluctuated between $150–300 per kilogram whereas in the United States and Canada prices ran between $2,000–3,000 per kilogram.

Since the 1970s Israeli crime rates have been constantly rising, with the steepest rise in violent crime. Of the 243,719 crimes reported in Israel in 1985, 263 were cases of murder or attempted murder and 9,994 were cases of assault. By 1994 the figures had jumped to 4,629 and 18,368, respectively. In the same period sex crimes rose from 2,133 to 2,825. Drug offenses rose from 4,367 to 11,584.

The following decade showed a continuing rise in most crime categories, with murder, sex crimes, spouse and child abuse, and drug crimes increasing. Though not the highest in the Western world, Israeli crime rates were comparable to those in Germany and Austria. While in 1996, 454,622 files were opened, in 2004 the number grew to 517,238, among which 55% were offenses against property. The number of immigrants committing crimes rose from 11,287 in 1996 to 27,747 in 2004, reflecting problems of adjustment among Russian and Ethiopian immigrants. In 2004, the Arab share in Israeli crime was 36.8%, a further reflection of social and economic malaise. A relatively new phenomenon in Israel is what has been recognized as organized crime, involving such familiar agents as local crime families, a Russian Mafia, and foreign hit men and dealing in everything from money laundering to the white slave trade (the importation of women from the former Soviet Union). Of the 173 arrests for the latter offense in 2001–4, 80% were among Russian immigrants. There was also a steep rise in juvenile delinquency. Statistics for the 1990–2002 period show an increase in every category. While in 1990, 20,552 police files were opened for juveniles, by 2002 the number had jumped to 32,067. The nature of juvenile crime had also changed. While until 1965, 80% of juvenile crimes were against property, in 1999 the rate was only 45% as violent crime and drug abuse climbed commensurately. The growth of violence among teenagers, and even younger children – murder, rape, and assault, including violence in schools and disco clubs – has become a common occurrence in Israel, with a jump from 3,508 police files in 1990 to 14,696 in 2002.


Sources: [Yaacov Nash / Shaked Gilboa (2nd ed.)]

B. Blau, Die Kriminalitaet der deutschen Juden (1906); R. Wassermann, Beruf, Konfession und Verbrechen (1907); A. Ruppin, Die Soziologie der Juden, 2 vols. (1930); idem, The Jews in the Modern World (1934); W.A. Bonger, Race and Crime (1943); A. Chouraqui, Between East and West (1968); L. Rosenberg, Canada's Jews (1939), 288–99; S.M. Robison, in: M. Sklare (ed.), The Jews: Social Patterns of an American Group (1958), 535–41; J. Lestschinsky, in: YIVO Bleter, 15 (1940), 202–16; N. Goldberg, ibid., 24 (1944), 131–2; idem, in: YIVO Annual, 5 (1950), 266–91; J. Guttman, in: Yivo Bleter, 26 (1945), 210–7; I. Drapkin Senderey, The Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders in Israel (1965); S.N. Eisenstadt, The Absorption of Immigrants (1954); S. Shoham, in: Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology and Police Science, 53 (1962), 207–14; U.(C.) Schmelz and D. Salzman (Gavish), Statistikah Pelilit be-Yisrael, 2 vols. (1962–65); Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistikah shel ha-Mishpatim ha-Peliliyyim (1952– ); idem, Avaryanut ha-No'ar (1960– ). ;S. Ben-Baruch, "Juvenile Delinquency," at www.police.gov.il; G. Eshed, "Organized Crime in Israel and in the World – Processes and Directions," at www2.colman.ac.il/law.

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