Bill to Cap Jail Time for Murdering Abusive Spouse Approved by Knesset Panel

The bill also requires a life sentence for murdering a spouse after abusing them for years. The Justice Ministry objected to an earlier, non-gender neutral version of the bill

A murder scene in Jaffa, after two sisters were killed by their brother, on May 17, 2018.
Tomer Appelbaum

A bill that would alter sentences for the murder of a spouse was approved on Wednesday by the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee of the Knesset, overriding objections by the Justice Ministry.

The bill would give a life sentence to anyone who murders their spouse after abusing them for years, while it would cap jail time for killing an abusive partner.

Until now, anyone who killed their spouse, abusive or otherwise, faced a life sentence. According to the proposed changes to the law, however, murdering a spouse following protracted abuse by them will require reduced criminal culpability and the penalty for such murder shall be capped at 15 years in prison. Murder by an abusive partner, on the other hand, must be tried as murder under aggravated circumstances, requiring a life sentence. 

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The two proposals are part of a Justice Ministry reform on homicide and its penalties and are pending confirmation by the Knesset. Lawmakers are expected to vote on them for final approval in an extraordinary Knesset session after the parliament is dissolved ahead of the April 9 early elections.

In February, the Justice Ministry strenuously objected to the proposals on the grounds of inequality before the law, arguing that categorizing an offence by gender would be problematic.

It opposed defining femicide by husbands as murder under aggravated circumstances, saying only crimes that harm values external to the death itself, such as terror attacks, should be defined as "aggravated."

However, a group of parliamentarians, led by Meretz MK Michal Rozen made passing the reform conditional on inclusion of that section, and agreed with Justice Ministry officials that the phrasing would remain gender neutral.

Rozin dubbed the proposals "unprecedented in Israeli law," adding that they constitute "a critical step in eradicating violence against women."

She said following the committee vote: "Gender-based violence isn't inevitable fate, but a social phenomenon that stems from male aggression toward women, which mustn't be ignored when judging a murder case."