Death penalty politics

Many Israelis and Europeans believe that killing a terrorist is more moral than allowing a situation in which he or she can be let free. We don’t disagree.

Avigdor Liberman   (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Avigdor Liberman
Ahead of the 52-49 preliminary Knesset vote in support of a bill that would, if it becomes law, make it easier for courts to sentence terrorists to death, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman clashed with National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz on Wednesday.
Steinitz argued against the bill mainly on procedural grounds, claiming that it had not been properly discussed in the security cabinet, in the full cabinet and in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.
In response, Liberman banged on the table, pointed out that support for the death penalty for terrorists is in Yisrael Beytenu’s coalition agreement, and stormed out.
Liberman might be right about the coalition agreement, but legislation that seeks to introduce broader use of capital punishment should not be passed due to political pressures. A thorough discussion of the issue that takes into consideration a wide range of issues must be conducted before the Jewish state starts issuing death sentences to terrorists.
Abolitionists such as Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit argue that a death penalty would not deter terrorists. Even if they do not blow themselves up, nearly all terrorists are essentially suicide attackers. They know full well that there is a very good chance they will be killed in the process of carrying their attack. If anything, carrying out death sentences would only embolden the extremists.
On the other hand, while the death penalty might not be a deterrent, it does eliminate the possibility that one of these despicable human beings will be set free to murder again in a prisoner swap.
There is also the question of whether capital punishment would infringe the Basic Law: Human Dignity. At the same time, argue the victims of terrorism, there is the human dignity of those who are put in danger because a terrorist is allowed to live and, potentially, be let free.
In a Jewish state, legislators also have an obligation to consider what the Jewish tradition has to say about capital punishment. Though Shas voted in favor of the legislation being advanced by Yisrael Beytenu, Shas’s late spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef opposed instituting the death penalty. But his main concern was not the lives of the terrorists. He argued in a taped lecture that can be found on YouTube that since the court system in Israel is run by evil judges who pervert justice, he feared that Jews would be given death sentences for killing gentiles.
Another consideration is how the legislation would affect Israel’s security and its relations with other countries – particularly in Europe. The Shin Bet warned that Islamist groups would step up attempts to kidnap Jews in Israel and abroad if the law is passed.
The EU, meanwhile, said that capital punishment “constitutes inhuman and degrading treatment, does not have any proven deterrent effect, and allows judicial errors to become irreversible and fatal.”
But a 2015 YouGov survey for the Hoover Institution seems to show that the EU political elite and mainstream parties are out of touch with the European populace on this issues, as they are on issues such as immigration.
According to the survey, half of Brits and more than half of Frenchmen favor the death penalty for terrorists.
In Israel, support for the death penalty is even stronger. A recent Peace Index survey published by the Jerusalem- based Israel Democracy Institute found that 70% of Israeli Jews “strongly” or “moderately” support the death penalty.
Many Israelis and Europeans believe that killing a terrorist is more moral than allowing a situation in which he or she can be let free. We don’t disagree.
There are many issues to consider before passing legislation that would make it easier for courts to hand down death sentences. Deep thought and deliberation must proceed any decision on the matter. The murderers of the Fogel family in Itamar and of the Salomon family in Halamish do not deserve to live. But revenge should not be the sole consideration, nor for that matter should narrow political interests.
Liberman might have been promised passage of a capital punishment law as part of the coalition agreement, but lots of promises are made in the heat of political negotiations. A wide range of issues must be thoroughly discussed before a decision is made on the matter.