Benefits for terrorists

Should it become law, bill will halve National Insurance Institute benefits that terrorists collect from state against which they plotted.

Palestinian prisoners on a bus before release [file] 311 (R) (photo credit: Yannis Behrakis / Reuters)
Palestinian prisoners on a bus before release [file] 311 (R)
(photo credit: Yannis Behrakis / Reuters)
A very curious bill successfully jumped its first legislative hurdle last week. Should it become law, it will halve the National Insurance Institute benefits that terrorists may collect from the state against which they plotted.
This legislation – sponsored by Israel Beiteinu MKs David Rotem and Robert Ilatov and already approved ahead of its first reading by the Knesset Welfare Committee – would apply to terrorists who hold Israeli citizenship or blue ID cards (as in east Jerusalem). It would pertain only to terrorists who were duly convicted and sentenced to at least 10 years behind bars.
The above limitations are already the product of extensive compromises. Initially, the bill’s framers were intent on denying all convicted terrorists any state payments whatsoever – among them pension, unemployment, bankruptcy, old-age, surviving relative, accident and disability benefits.
Legal experts, however, were quick to scorn the original initiative, which led its sponsors to soften their proposal’s punch.
The result is a mishmash that neither denies all terrorists the largesse of the Israeli taxpayers whom they sought to harm, nor protects the bill from legal challenges on the grounds of discrimination.
The measures’s opponents, among them an assortment of civil liberties jurists and Justice Ministry functionaries, assailed the very notion of reducing social security benefits as punishment. Such benefits, according to legalistic perceptions, are the basic right of any citizen. To deprive any eligible person of his due, it’s averred, violates both the letter and the spirit of existing legislation.
On top of this, detractors claim that it is indefensible to punish any ex-convict who presumably paid his debt to society. Moreover, such extra punishment is inherently disproportional, as the needier a person becomes, the greater the adverse impact of benefits-denial upon him.
All the above reservations may be pedantically valid from the strictly formal perspective yet, even so, offend the ordinary citizen’s sense of innate justice.
To the layman, it’s preposterous that Israelis would shell out portions of their hard-earned incomes to help recognized terrorists who actively aimed to kill the very taxpayers from whom they then brazenly demand financial support.
This issue isn’t new to our public discourse. Back in 2001, a vehement chorus of disapproval was provoked by revelations that the family of suicide bomber Muhammad Shaker Habeishi, who blew himself up outside the Nahariya train station, killing three people and wounding 94 others, was eligible for a monthly pension of NIS 2,800.
By law there was no way of denying him comprehensive taxpayer-funded assistance. The law, in its obligatory blindness, doesn’t distinguish between terrorists and those whom they conspired to murder.
This, at the height of the second intifada, was just the harbinger of numerous examples of Israeli taxpayers bankrolling their would-be annihilators or the terrorists’ kin. While legal theoreticians may have had no quarrel with this state of affairs, it grated against the intuitions of Mr. and Ms. Average Israeli.
There’s no disputing that a genuine ethical dilemma exists here. More than a little chutzpah is involved when a nation’s most coldblooded enemies regard themselves as entitled to their intended victims’ generosity.
However, when the Knesset sets about to rectify a situation that is intrinsically unacceptable to many of us, it cannot have it both ways. It cannot focus exclusively on terrorists sentenced to 10 years or more. Is there a moral difference between them and terrorists sentenced only to nine years? Similarly the Knesset cannot cover itself by eliminating just half the legalistic literalism on the one hand, while preserving just half the disciplinary wallop originally prescribed. That is a surefire way of not satisfying critics, while concomitantly not meeting legislative objectives.
If known terrorists are entitled to our collective largess, then they should receive it unstintingly – in full. Conversely, why should terrorists get a single agora if their demonstrated belligerence against the taxpayers who fund them disqualifies said terrorists from further dependence on these very taxpayers? The proposed legislation has already served us well by underscoring the irrationality embedded in our egalitarian broadmindedness.
Nonetheless, this bill’s operative premise is as absurd as that which it seeks to correct.