EU Slams 'Inhuman and Degrading' Death Penalty After Israel Advances Bill

'Death penalty is incompatible with human dignity,' the EU says, alluding to Knesset legislation that would make it easier to sentence terrorists who commit murder to death

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Lieberman visiting a military base last year.
Ariel Harmony/Defense Ministry

The European Union said on Wednesday that it opposes an Israeli bill that would makes it easier for military courts to sentence terrorists who commit murder to death. The bill received preliminary backing from the Knesset on Wednesday.

"The death penalty is incompatible with human dignity," the EU's office in Israel said in a tweet. "It constitutes inhuman & degrading treatment, does not have any proven deterrent effect & allows judicial errors to become irreversible & fatal."

"The #EU welcomes the global trend towards the abolition of capital punishment," they continued in a follow-up tweet, "which has already resulted in more than two-thirds of all countries having abolished the death penalty in law or in practice."

The bill narrowly passed the preliminary vote, with 52 lawmakers for it and 49 against. It now needs to pass three rounds of voting in order to become a law. 

Before the vote took place, the Shin Bet security service voiced its objection to the death penalty bill, fearing it would trigger a wave of kidnappings of Jews around the world to use them in negotiations.

Despite the warning, Netanyahu backed the bill at the Knesset. In unusual remarks ahead of the vote he said: “A person who slaughters and laughs should not spend his life behind bars but be put to death.”

Present military law allows the death penalty to be handed down for murder committed as part of a terror act, but it is conditional on the unanimous support of the sentence by the judges. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who sponsored the bill, proposes that an ordinary majority of judges should suffice to sentence a terrorist to death. The bill also bans leniency after a final death sentence has been handed down.

The bill does not propose to force the military prosecutor to seek the death penalty but leaves the decision to the prosecutor’s discretion. However, it would broaden the option of sentencing terrorist murderers to death beyond the military courts, in the Israeli civil courts.