Former Attorney General Comes Out Against Lieberman's 'Death to Terrorists' Bill

Yehuda Weinstein calls on his successor, Avichai Mendelblit, to oppose the bill: 'There are no countries that added the death penalty to the book of law, only ones that took it off.'

Incoming Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit with his predecessor, Yehuda Weinstein, in the official ceremony in Jerusalem, February 1, 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

In a first public comments since ending his term as attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein called on his successor Avichai Mendelblit to oppose the approval of the death penalty for terrorists, a bill being discussed in coalition Negotiations between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu.

"I said I wouldn’t serve as the general attorney if there'd be a death penalty here," Weinstein told Haaretz. "I think that it's clearly the appropriate position, and I think that Mendelblit should also vigorously oppose this decree."

Weinstein added: "There's nothing like it in the world. There are no countries that added the death penalty to the book of law, only ones that took it off. It's not practical in terms of deterrence, since these are criminals who anyhow act out of an ideological motive and aren’t afraid of death. It's also not moral.

"The State of Israel should be proud of things other than this decision."

Following talks between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman on expanding the governing coalition, the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu negotiation teams are examining the option to replace the so-called "death penalty for terrorists" bill with a correction to the military courts order.

The move is expected to make it easier to impose the death penalty and to lower the bar that requires an absolute majority among judges. The correction to the military courts order is expected to include mainly Palestinian convicts. Sources from the negotiations teams verified the details.    

In the past, Weinstein opposed the bill presented on the issue, among other things via a review he submitted to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, a government panel in charge of vetting bill. The bill was thwarted when it didn’t receive the backing of Netanyahu, who ordered the Likud ministers on the committee to oppose it.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked supported the bill, and said last July that she "found out that there's a death penalty for terrorists and that it was last handed out in 1994. Since then the military prosecution hasn’t requested a death penalty, but it can be requested and the military court can give it according to the law.

"Unfortunately, the sentence of the terrorist prosecuted in 1994 was commuted to a life sentence and he was released in the Shalit deal, but the penalty exists and can be carried out," she said. Shaked was referring to the 2011 prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas to free captive soldier Gilad Shalit.

Referring to the 2011 murder of the Fogel family members by Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, Shaked said that "when the murderers of the Fogel family were found, there was a public debate on whether the death penalty should be requested, and I led such a public debate. The military prosecution can demand the death penalty but hasn’t done so, and this is where the problem starts."

In 2012, Weinstein decided, in contrast to the opinion of senior officials in the State Prosecutor's Office – among them former State Prosecutor Moshe Lador – that the main case against Lieberman should be closed.

"I reached the conclusion that the evidentiary basis of the case does not establish a reasonable chance of conviction," Weinstein wrote at the time. He was speaking of the case accusing Lieberman of money laundering, fraud and breach of trust and other suspicions.

Lieberman was suspected of receiving millions of dollars from tycoons such as Martin Schlaff and Michael Cherney through foreign companies while serving in public office.

"Therefore, the case against Avigdor Lieberman should be closed for insufficient evidence to bring him to trial regarding the suspicions raised in relation to the companies."

Lieberman was indicted over an affair relating to the appointment of Israel's ambassador to Belarus, but was acquitted by the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court in November 2013. The Justice Ministry decided at the time not to appeal the acquittal.