After a murder reminiscent of the James Bulger case and several other apparently violent deaths since the New Year, Israelis are becoming increasingly concerned about violent crime.
On January 1, police found the body of seven-year-old Leon Kalantarov in the bedroom of Naor and Adir Sudmi, twins in their 20s who live in the boy’s home town, near Ashdod.
The previous night, nine-month-old girl Fruma Anshin died in Jerusalem. Police believe she was strangled after being violently abused. The Sudmi twins and her father, Nachman Anshin, have been arrested and police investigations are under way.
Last weekend, two men were killed in different drive-by shootings and another was critically wounded after being shot outside his home.
Meanwhile, the infamous Oshrenko murder, in October, is still fresh in Israeli minds. Six members of the Oshrenko family from Rishon Le-Zion were killed, and Damian Kerlik, a waiter who had been fired from the family’s restaurant, has been charged with the crime.
A new poll indicates that some 54 per cent of Israelis believe that crime today is worse than in the past.
“The situation is worse than ever in people’s perception,” said Irit Yehoshua, a pollster at the research company TNS Teleseker. “People think that we have become a more violent society, especially against those who cannot take care of themselves.”
The question that divides experts is whether there is truth in the perception. Avi Davidowicz, Bar Ilan University criminologist, and former deputy head of the National Investigations Unit for International Organised Crime, says there is.
“It’s not just subjective perception — this is fact,” he said.
He cites two major reasons. Firstly, “law enforcement in Israel is weak”. Secondly, “Israel is a Western country and generally speaking, crime in the whole of the Western world is increasing”.
His views clash with those of his former colleagues in the Israeli Police. According to force spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, there has simply been a glut of “isolated” incidents and “not a widespread phenomenon”.
Statistics present an Israel that is becoming less violent. The rate of reported murders was lower in 2009 than at any point in the previous decade. Like several Western European countries, it usually comes in at around two murders per 100,000 citizens. In 2009 there was a slight drop to 1.8. There was a decline in other forms of violent crime, including assault.
According to Haifa University criminologist Aryeh Ratner, who has just completed a lengthy analysis of crime statistics: “We are seeing a discrepancy between fear of and perception of crime versus the real scientific picture.
“One major reason is that people build their perception from the media. If you go back and look at the headlines you would see them yelling that blood has been spilled in the street and we are becoming a more violent society.
“When you don’t have an intifada you need something else to focus on, so you focus on domestic issues.”
Mr Davidowicz, however, insists that statistics are mistaken and the public is right. He believes that many crimes go unreported due to low confidence in police, and also claims that figures hide the real trends which can be discerned from victim surveys.
He puts the dip in murders down to the fact that this statistic includes deaths in terror attacks, which have been rare recently.
“There’s a serious increase and because criminal statistics are very complicated, they don’t represent the real increase in crime,” he said.