Israeli Ministers to Reconsider Death Penalty for Terrorists

The bill, the flagship of the opposition Yisrael Beiteinu party, is the same as one that the Knesset voted down last year.

Moti Milrod

A flagship bill by the opposition right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, which seeks to increase military courts' ability to impose the death penalty on convicted terrorists, is expected to be considered on Sunday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.

The death penalty has only been carried out once in Israel, in the case of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann for his role as an architect of the Holocaust.

Identical legislalation was voted down by the Knesset last year. 

Military court judges are authorized to impose capital punishment on terrorists under current law, but the death penalty has only been ordered in a few cases and has been commuted in each. The proposed bill is designed the make it easier to impose. Contrary to current military law, the bill would authorize courts to impose the death penalty even if the decision is not supported unanimously by a panel of judges, and it would bar moves to commute a death sentence.

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman said the proposed law also aims to head off the release of Palestinian terrorism convicts in prisoner exchange agreements with Israel.

"The release of terrorists, including terrorists who have carried out the most horrible attacks after not serving out their full sentences, which has happened several times through various transactions - beyond the fundamental moral flaw [involved] also sends the absolute opposite message than that required in the war against terrorism," Lieberman said in explanatory remarks on the bill. It does major harm to deterrence and encourages terrorists, he asserted, and added: "In the reality that Israel is confronting, the death penalty for terrorist is a deterrent necessity."

In addition to its sponsorship by Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset members, the new bill is sponsored by members of coalition from Likud and Habayit Hayehudi.

In July, the Knesset voted down identical legislation after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposed it and announced the convening of a committee to develop the government's stance on the issue. Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Danny Danon, at the time a cabinet member from Likud, declared their support for the legislation but were absent for the vote. The bill was defeated by a vote of 94 to six. All six of the votes in favor came from Yisrael Beiteinu.