A bill to institute a death penalty for terrorists will reach the Knesset plenum today for a preliminary vote, a source in the Otzma Yehudit Party said Tuesday.
According to the bill, proposed by Otzma 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 this sentence alone.
In addition, the bill requires that the defense minister direct the IDF, which is the sovereign in the West Bank, that if the crime is committed in that area, the same punishment will apply in military courts even if the ruling is not unanimous, and that in those courts, punishment may not be lightened after it is finalized.
The opposition Yisrael Beytenu Party, which has long called for such a law, on Tuesday said it would support the bill. However, the death penalty is a disputed issue in Halacha.
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef has ruled that the death penalty violates Halacha. The Shas Party, which represents the Sephardi haredi (ultra-Orthodox) electorate, said it would support the bill only in its preliminary reading at this point, out of coalition obligations, but that it would follow Yosef’s ruling in the future, which is unlikely to change, according to Yishai Cohen, a reporter for the Kikar HaShabbat news site.
United Torah Judaism, the Ashkenazi haredi party, has traditionally opposed such proposals and will likely abstain, according to a source in the party.
Supporters of the law, without Shas and UTJ but with Yisrael Beytenu, would likely have 52 votes. Assuming that Shas and UTJ abstain and the opposition parties oppose the bill, there would be 50 votes against it. This means that if either of the haredi parties, or even if any of the two factions that make up UTJ – the Lithuanian Degel Hatorah and the hassidic Agudat Yisrael – vote against the law, it would not have a majority in the Knesset.
The Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved the bill to reach the Knesset floor, despite Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara’s opinion filed last Thursday that there was a “legal impediment” to vote on the law before the national security cabinet holds a meeting to understand whether the death penalty actually creates deterrence. The committee decided instead that the security cabinet should convene to discuss the law after it passes its preliminary reading.
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 law does not specify what method would be used to carry out the capital punishment. 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.
According to the attorney-general’s opinion, the law does not meet constitutional requirements, since according to positions of security authorities in the past in a similar context, the proposed punishment does not actually lead to deterrence. Baharav-Miara also opined that in general, the death penalty should not be used, and even more so as a requisite punishment, since it is irreversible if it becomes apparent that the ruling was mistaken.
Death penalty would raise harsh criticism around the world
In addition, the death penalty would raise harsh criticism around the world, since Israel has been considered since 2008 as a country that de facto eliminated the death penalty, the attorney-general wrote.
Finally, the part about the West Bank is inapplicable since Israeli law does not apply there, and the sovereign there is not the Knesset but IDF Central Command. 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, Baharav-Miara wrote.
Despite this, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mentioned the death penalty law, along with a law to expel families of terrorists from the country, as being part of a “changing of the rules” in the government’s fight against terrorism.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir (Otzma Yehudit) wrote Tuesday on Twitter: “I assume that our power is in our unity. A vote in favor of the death penalty for terrorists is not a ‘favor’ that someone does for Otzma Yehudit, but the following of a simple and clear coalition agreement that advances one of the most important laws in the country’s history!”
The Labor Party said it would vote against the law, calling it a gimmick.
“After two months of dealing with lowly and unimportant pita bread and showers [for terrorists in prison], the national security minister’s results are 14 murdered in terrorist attacks,” it said in a statement. “The dangerous and wanton law proposal of the minister of gimmicks proves that he is losing his sense facing his failures and needs to resign immediately.”
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Tuesday expressed her concerns regarding the proposed bill during a joint press conference in Berlin with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen.
“We oppose the death penalty from the depth of our beliefs, and we raise that issue everywhere we go in the United States and Japan, just as much as in Saudi Arabia and Iran,” she said.