Lieberman's Party Leaving Coalition Could Block Bill Calling for Death Penalty for Terrorists

Ex-defense chief's initiative will encourage kidnappings and undermine efforts to combat terror, Shin Bet official says at hearing for the proposed legislation

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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FILE Photo: Avigdor Lieberman at a Knesset meeting in Jerusalem, October, 2018.
FILE Photo: Avigdor Lieberman at a Knesset meeting in Jerusalem, October, 2018. Credit: Emil Salma
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Wednesday's withdrawal of the Yisrael Beiteinu party from the governing coalition may halt efforts to pass pending legislation on the death penalty for terrorists that the party had made a priority.

Last week, the party's leader, Avigdor Lieberman, who also announced on Wednesday that he is resigning as defense minister, said he had obtained consent from the other parties in the governing coalition to advance the bill to its first vote by the Knesset, despite opposition from coalition partners.

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An additional two votes would be necessary to pass the bill, which would make it easier for military courts to impose the death sentence on those convicted of terrorist charges by allowing a majority decision of a three-judge panel, as opposed to the current requirement of a unanimous decision. However to date, no terrorists convicted of murder has ever been executed.

The bill received major criticism from an official from the Shin Ben security service at a hearing on Wednesday in the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. The official warned that it could lead to attempted kidnappings in an effort to free terrorists facing the death penalty and make it more difficult to arrest suspects of terror activity.

FILE Photo: The Megiddo Prison in northern Israel, July, 2018.
FILE Photo: The Megiddo Prison in northern Israel, July, 2018. Credit: Amir Cohen/REUTERS

"The Shin Bet opposes imposing the death penalty on terrorists," the official who heads the agency's department on policy development said. "The terrorist population acts in part out of Islamic motives and others [act] out of psychological motives. Their working assumption is that they won't come back alive from a terrorist attack," the official added. It could encourage terrorists to kidnap Israelis as bargaining chips for the release of terrorists, he claimed. It could also encourage revenge attacks and lead to unrest and disturbances of the peace and what he called "the glorification of martyrs and the terrorist path."

For his part, a former deputy director of the Shin Bet, Yitzhak Ilan, said it would  encourage attacks in support of terrorists on death row and make it more difficult to arrest terrorists if they believed they would face execution.

During the committee session, Likud Knesset member Benny Begin criticized the bill, claiming that not a single party in the coalition supported a death penalty bill introduced by Yisrael Beiteinu.

The bill's sponsor, Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset member Robert Ilatov, said the legislation was part of a coalition agreement that the government committed to when his party joined. Ilatov complained about the delay in passing the bill, including its removal from the security cabinet's agenda. Ilatov's party colleague Oded Forer said the legislation was necessary for its deterrent effect and not out of revenge.

The committee is expected to vote on the bill next week.