The Eulogizer: Alleged gangster Francois Abutbul and Shulamit Shamir, wife of ex-Israeli PM

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org. Read previous columns here.

Francois Abutbul, alleged Israeli gangster

Francois Abutbul, the scion of an alleged Israeli crime family, died in a drive-by shooting at a gas station in Netanya on Israel’s coastal highway early Sunday, after weeks and months of police warnings of threats on his life.

Abutbul, known as “Francois the Great,” was released from prison last December after serving about half of a 22-month sentence for domestic violence. He was shot by two men who approached his car on a motorcycle and then sped away. The shooting was the latest in a violent string of incidents involving Abutbul, his family and rival gangs, police said.

The country’s four main crime families — Abutbul, Abergil, Alperon and Rosenstein — “have been vying for control over the drug trade, extortion rackets and general dominion over Tel Aviv” for a decade, reported Israel Hayom, even as three of the four families’ patriarchs are in prison. “A newer and significantly more violent generation is rising to power.” 

Abutbul, whose age was not given in any of the many articles about him, has been in and out of Israeli courthouses, jails and media headlines for years. Click here for a video that includes numerous clips of him and what was said to be his final interview with an Israeli journalist, in which he discusses, among other subjects, the ongoing feud with another alleged Israeli mobster, Rico Shirazi.

In fact, shortly after the shooting, police visited Shirazi’s home, where he denied any connection with the event.

"It’s not the first time that they turned the spotlight on me,” Shirazi said. “I’m not connected to this (criminal) world.”

Abutbul was the son of Felix Abutbul, who was murdered in 2002 outside a casino he owned in Prague. His brother, Asi, is serving a 13-year prison sentence for running a criminal organization, extortion and money laundering. His cousin, also named Francois Abutbul, was convicted in 2009 of a murder outside a Netanya night club. And his uncle, Charlie Abutbul, was himself the subject of assassination attempts in 2008 and 2010. Francois Abutbul was the owner of several restaurants in Netanya.

There was speculation at the time of the 2008 attack on Charlie Abutbul that his nephew, Francois, Sunday’s murder victim, was behind the attempt, in retaliation for being stabbed by a rival, Charlie’s son, Adam.

When Abutbul was sentenced in 2009 for the domestic violence charges, he said in court that investigators wanted him in jail and pressured his wife to press charges.

“I closed a deal because I didn’t have a choice," he said. "There is something wrong here when the police tell a woman that her husband is garbage. It is important that people know that I am not a mafia head and that I am not a wife beater. It’s true we had problems, but it was because of the police."

At the time, Abutbul had already served five years in jail for violence and extortion.

At his funeral Monday, Abutbul family members vowed to avenge his death. The responsible party “will pay for this crime by the end of the week, God willing," an unnamed family member was quoted as saying, “to which the crowd mumbled ‘Amen.’ ”

Shulamit Shamir, 88, former Israeli PM’s wife

Shulamit Shamir, the wife of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and a one-time fighter in the pre-state underground group Lehi, died July 29 at 88 in her Tel Aviv home.

Shamir was eulogized by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the opening moments of the weekly Cabinet session on Sunday.

"Shulamit was a woman of principles, an idealist, who stood at her husband’s side throughout his life," Netanyahu said. "She was a member of the Lehi; she fought for Israel’s freedom. She was always faithful to the principles of the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. She and her husband raised the wonderful Shamir family, which has contributed, and is contributing, to the State of Israel in so many areas. I am certain that I speak for all ministers and all Israelis as we convey our condolences to the Shamir family on Shulamit’s passing."

Shulamit Shamir was born Sarikah Levi in Sofia, Bulgaria, to a traditional Sephardi family. She became a Zionist in her grandfather’s home, attended a Hebrew elementary school and a Bulgarian gymnasium, and joined a Betar youth club. She left school in the eighth grade and immigrated to prestate Palestine “illegally, on a rickety boat” in 1941 with fellow Betar members and was promptly arrested by the British and held in the Atlit prison camp.

A year later, upon her release from prison, she joined the Lehi underground group and became a message runner for Yitzhak Shamir, who was code-named Michael at the time. The small militant band had fewer than 200 women in its ranks. Her tasks included transferring the orders for an escape from a detention camp to 20 Lehi members imprisoned there, and accompanying Eliyahu Bet-Zuri to Cairo, where his mission there, unknown to her, was to assassinate Lord Moyne, British minister of state for the Middle East. Moyne was killed on Nov. 6, 1944 by Bet-Zuri and Eliyahu Hakim, who were executed for the crime.

When Shulamit married Shamir in 1944, the two broke an unwritten rule that activists in the underground group would not marry.

“We had a lot in common, and I just fell in love with her,” Shamir said in a 1993 interview. “I was the first to demand not to live a monastic life, and I argued that it was a normal life that would increase our strength. I demanded to marry."

After their first son, Yair, was born, Shulamit went back into political activities and was arrested in 1947, when she went on a hunger strike for 11 days.

After Yitzhak Shamir became prime minister of Israel in 1983, Shulamit Shamir did volunteer work on behalf of the poor and needy and established an organization for the elderly poor. She visited her homeland of Bulgaria in 1991 as wife of Israel’s prime minister and received an award for her active role in renewing relations between Israel and Bulgaria.

Yitzhak Shamir, 95, lives in a nursing home in Tel Aviv. Two children, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren also survive Shulamit.

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