The Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday approved a bill that institutes a death penalty for terrorists. The approval came despite Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara’s issuing an opinion last week that there was a “legal impediment” to voting on the law before the national security cabinet meets to decide whether the penalty would create deterrence.
According to the bill proposed by Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech, someone who “intentionally or out of indifference causes the death of an Israeli citizen when the act is carried out from a racist motive or hate to a certain public... and with the purpose of harming the State of Israel and the rebirth of the Jewish people in its homeland,” faces a death sentence, and that sentence alone.
In addition, if such a crime is committed in the West Bank, the punishment would apply in military courts even if the ruling is not unanimous, and the punishment could not be lightened after it is finalized in a regional court.
The law is to be brought for preliminary approval in the Knesset as early as this Wednesday. The national security cabinet will then debate it prior to its first reading in the Knesset plenum.
“On this difficult day, when two Israeli citizens are murdered in a Palestinian terrorist attack, there is nothing more symbolic than passing the death penalty for terrorists’ law,” National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said in a joint statement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “This is a moral law, and [it is] fair, which exists in the largest democracy in the world and all the more so in a country where a wave of terrorism is [targeting] Israeli citizens.”
Netanyahu said: “We will continue taking action with all methods, on security in operational missions and in legislation, to deter terrorists and safeguard Israel’s security. Our answer to terrorism is to strike terrorism forcefully and deepen our roots in our land.”
Ben-Gvir later said in a speech to police officers that the law was “moral, sensible and should pass.”
What are the details of the Israeli bill to give terrorists the death penalty?
According to the law’s explanatory section, “The purpose of this law is to cut off terrorism at its source and create heavy deterrence. No more [will there be] ‘all inclusive’ jails. No more letting terrorists go free after half of their jail time.”
"The purpose of this law is to cut off terror at its source, and create heavy deterrence. No more [will there be] 'all inclusive' jails. No more letting terrorists go free after half of their jail time."Bill to give terrorists the death penalty
The law does not specify what method would be used to carry out the death penalty. In addition, due to the provision that requires that the crime be committed “with the purpose of harming the State of Israel and the rebirth of the Jewish people in its homeland,” it likely would not apply to Jewish terrorists who murder Palestinians.
Why do some object to the bill?
According to Baharav-Miara’s opinion, the law does not meet constitutional requirements, since according to positions of security authorities in the past in similar contexts, the proposed punishment does not actually lead to deterrence. She also opined that in general, the death penalty should not be used, and all the more so as a requisite punishment, since it is irreversible if it becomes apparent that the ruling was mistaken.
The death penalty would also raise harsh criticism around the world, since Israel has since 2008 been considered to be a country that de facto eliminated capital punishment, Baharav-Miara wrote.
Finally, the part about the West Bank is inapplicable since Israeli law does not apply there, and the sovereign there is IDF Central Command and not the Knesset. Such legislation could imply that Israel was applying its law to the West Bank and could be viewed internationally as a step toward changing the area’s status, she wrote.
There was thus a “legal impediment” to vote on the law before its relevance was discussed in the national security cabinet, Baharav-Miara wrote.
Such opinions by the attorney-general are generally considered binding, but the ministerial committee still voted on it, choosing instead to bring it to the national security cabinet after the preliminary vote in the Knesset but before the first reading.
What do Ben-Gvir, Son Har-Melech say?
The bill was a central campaign promise by Ben-Gvir. Members of Yisrael Beytenu, a party currently in the opposition, have supported such a bill in the past as well.
Ben-Gvir said in a statement earlier on Sunday that Likud members had requested the law not be put to a vote in Sunday’s meeting in keeping with the attorney-general’s directive.
"We have an explicit coalition agreement with the Likud that the law proposal will come up, I find it difficult to believe that the Likud will not fulfill the agreement."Itamar Ben-Gvir
“We have an explicit coalition agreement with the Likud that the law proposal will come up. I find it difficult to believe that the Likud will not fulfill the agreement,” Ben-Gvir said, quoting from the agreement that said the coalition would pass the law prior to the passing of the national budget.
"I was astounded this morning to see opposition to the bill that I proposed, which is meant to put an end to the absurd reality where murderous terrorists with blood on their hands are freed after a few years from jail and continue to live their lives comfortably."Limor Son Har-Melech
While he did not oppose the issue coming up in a national security cabinet meeting, there was no reason to take it off of Sunday’s agenda, Ben-Gvir said.
Son Har-Melech said: “I was astounded this morning to see opposition to the bill that I proposed, which is meant to put an end to the absurd reality where murderous terrorists with blood on their hands are freed after a few years from jail and continue to live their lives comfortably.”
She said a terrorist who murdered her first husband, Shuli Har-Melech, bragged in court that he would be released quickly, and he indeed was released a few years later in a prisoner-exchange agreement.
Amnesty International Israel: The death penalty is "cruel, inhumane and humiliating"
Amnesty International Israel condemned the law’s passage in the ministerial committee, arguing that the death sentence is “cruel, inhumane and humiliating.”
It said in a statement: “The wording of the law, which gives the death penalty to people who attacked civilians ‘with the purpose of harming the State of Israel and the rebirth of the Jewish people in its homeland,’ clarifies that here is an attempt to create a distinction in the law on a nationalist-ethnic-political basis between attackers of citizens, and thus makes the law an apartheid law, which is a crime against humanity, in addition to its being disgraceful and unworthy due to the demand for a death penalty.”
“It is important to remember the context of this law: Another piece in the puzzle of the legal coup d’état intended to erase and trample the final mechanisms that attempted from time to time to defend the human rights of minorities and weakened groups. This is a legal coup d’etat that was born in the twisted idea of Jewish supremacy and is intended to legitimize it,” Amnesty International Israel said.