Wide view of the Knesset.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Terrorists may not be able to be released in prisoner exchanges or diplomatic gestures until they have served 40 years in prison, according to a bill approved for its second and third (final) votes by the Knesset Law, Constitution, and Justice Committee Monday.
If the bill by MKs Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi), David Tsur (Hatnua), and others passes into law, it would create a new sentence for “exceptionally severe cases” of murder.
In such cases, such as terrorist attacks, infanticide, and especially cruel murders, a judge would have discretion, but is not obligated, to add another level of punishment to the killer’s life sentence. A terrorist, such as a special-case murderer, could request to be pardoned after 15 years and could only be released after 40 years.
Under the bill, even if a request is accepted by the parole board, the convict would have to be in prison for at least 40 years before being released. In some cases, an approved parole could still lead to serving an additional 25 years.
However, unlike parole boards, the president of the state still has the power to pardon any individual, terrorist or otherwise, at any time regardless of how much prison time served.
If a separate related amendment is passed, the one new major limitation on a president’s pardoning authority would be that a president could not supersede the 40-year term limit to pardon a group of terrorists as part of a diplomatic gesture or prisoner exchange.
It is unclear whether the proposed amendment would allow a president to issue a series of individual pardons to circumvent the new potential limitation on his authority.
Once the bill becomes law, which is expected to happen in late October or early November, it could apply retroactively to murderers and terrorists who have trials pending or have already been convicted, but would not apply to those already sentenced.
The law would allow terrorists who are already serving life sentences to be traded for captive Israelis or released as part of diplomatic negotiations.
The latest version of the bill and related amendments appears to have been modified as a result of initial opposition by Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to its completely tying the president’s hands over pardons.
Shaked said that “the Knesset is on the way to putting an end to the anarchy in which despicable murderers and terrorists are released too early based on questionable deals, torturing their victim’s families.”
The bill was significantly weakened from its original version, which called for life sentences without any option of a presidential pardon for terrorists and special cases of murder.
MK Orit Struck (Bayit Yehudi), who co-sponsored the legislation, said the version authorized by the Law, Constitution, and Justice Committee is “the little we could do to take Israel off the dangerous, slippery slope of releasing terrorist murderers.”
“This bill will allow the courts to prevent in advance the release of especially cruel murderers in deals or diplomatic decisions. This goes together with an excellent law we passed in the [Knesset’s] winter session, which allowed the government to put previously released prisoners back in jail. This way, step by step, we will restore the State of Israel’s responsibility and sanity in this matter,” she added.
MK Michal Rosin (Meretz) spoke out against the bill, saying the government should be able to make its own decisions about diplomatic negotiations.
“There are cases in which the courts will decide that [a murderer or terrorist] should not be released. Let the judges decide,” Struck responded.
“Thank goodness you aren’t trying to pass a death penalty bill,” Rosin retorted.
MK David Tsur (Hatnua) argued that in especially cruel cases of murder, the death sentence would be a moral punishment, and he would consider proposing such a bill.
“You really think the death penalty is moral?” Rosin asked. “Who made you God? Not that I believe in God, but still, you have no right to take a life.”
“And a murderer has that right? I think whoever murders a child deserves the death penalty,” Shaked said.
“You think we shouldn’t have killed Eichmann?” Struck asked.
Rosin responded that it is “problematic,” pointing out that Israel has not imposed the death sentence since then.