Israel's Justice Ministry Opposes Adding Women's Murder to Category of Worst Form of Homicide

In a discussion of a new bill that would create a new legal category of aggravated murder, the ministry opposed - saying the law must apply equally to all

Demonstrators protest violence against women at Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, December 4, 2018
Meged Gozani

The Justice Ministry opposed a proposal on Wednesday to add the murder of women to a list of forms of aggravated murder, a week after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered to fast-track government legislation that would increase penalties against abusive men.

Courts would be mandated to sentence those convicted of aggravated murder to life sentence, according to the bill. Currently, all those convicted of murder receive life in jail, while the bill would create a new category, aggravated murder, which would be the only one to carry such a sentence. Femicide - the murder of women on account of their gender - is not considered aggravated murder under the proposed law, sponsored by the government.

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On Wednesday, the bill was discussed in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee in preparation for a second and third vote - out of three - by the full Knesset. In the discussion, several lawmakers pushed for adding femicide to the aggravated murder category, while both Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked opposed. The Justice Ministry maintains that the law must apply equally to all and that aggravated murder should be reserved for murders that cause harm to some greater value beyond the murder itself, such as killings by terrorist organizations.

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The Prime Minister’s Office said the issue would be discussed at the next meeting of a ministerial committee on preventing violence.

Ahead of the anti-femicide protests, feminist activists on poured red water – to symbolize blood – into public water fountains in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem. December 3, 2018
Emil Salman

Justice Ministry attorney Lilach Wagner said people shouldn’t be punished because of problems for which they aren’t personally responsible, no matter how terrible those societal problems might be. For instance, she noted, killings by lone-wolf terrorists are treated as ordinary murder rather than aggravated murder.

“You’re turning the discussion into for or against murdering women, and that’s wrong,” an attorney from the State Prosecutor's Office, Tamar Bornstein, added. “Most murder victims in this country are men, and the question is whether the murder of a woman is worse than other murders that are no less terrible.”

But MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List), who chairs the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, disagreed, arguing that women are killed because they are women, and the law should reflect that. Defining "Gender-based murder would send a clear message to women that this house finally understands the depth of the problem,” she said.

Currently, Israeli law defines three types of homicide: Murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide. The new bill suggests adding a fourth category, aggravated murder, which would include particularly brutal murders such as terrorist murders, the murder of a minor by anyone responsible for her or him, the murder of a helpless person and murder by a member of the family. Murders carried out by relatives against women as reprisal "in order to instill fear and force certain behavioral norms on the public," as the Justice Ministry puts it, will also be considered aggravated.

The issue of domestic violence has been in the forefront this month with nationwide protests focusing on the claim that the government has failed to address the problem of domestic violence. A prominent message of the protests was the alleged failure of the government to make use of 250 million shekels ($67 million) allocated to combat violence against women. The protests were sparked by the murder last week of two teenage girls, allegedly under circumstances involving domestic violence. The day after a nation-wide strike, Netanyahu said violence against women was as bad as terrorism.

The Justice Ministry said in response to the Knesset committee discussion on the bill that the ministry "is a partner in the battle against violence toward women, including through legislation. For instance, we are looking into making abuse of a domestic partner or relative into a new type of felony." The ministry added that most cases of murder by a domestic partner is included already in the aggravated murder definition of the governmental bill.