Editorial |

Kill the Death Penalty Bill

The capital punishment for terrorists legislation that Knesset gave preliminary approval to last week should be pulled now that it's fulfilled its political mission

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 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem November 13, 2017.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a session of the Knesset in Jerusalem November 13, 2017. Credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

By a bare majority, the Knesset has given preliminary approval to a bill sanctioning the death penalty for terrorists. This bill should be pulled and further legislative stages waived, seeing as how it has now fulfilled its political mission and done its duty by those chanting “death to terrorists,” by the politicians competing with one another over fascist legislation, by those on the “extreme” and “moderate” right, and by anyone whose hand didn’t tremble when he raised it to support this bill. The death penalty is nothing but cold-blooded murder carried out by civilian society, and is therefore morally invalid.

In addition, such a law is superfluous and dangerous. The Shin Bet security service’s objection to it rests on the fear that it would lead to kidnappings of Jews abroad to use them in hostage negotiations, or even to murder them to deter implementation of the law. Even Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who sponsored the bill, once opposed it on the argument that revenge is neither a policy nor morally justified. Thus, he in his own words confirmed the suspicion that the bill is really about revenge and not deterrence. He has since changed his tune, once he concluded the bill would provide him with political capital.

But it’s not only the bill’s effect on security that should halt its legislative path. Israel has a wealth of means to deter, punish and even take revenge against terrorists who carry out their murderous deeds in the name of national or religious ideology. Executing them would only elevate their status and turn them into martyrs and role models.

To buttress these points, there is also the dubious legal argument that Israeli law already permits the death penalty when the judges rule unanimously in its favor. However, anyone who takes this tack is still condoning the death penalty in principle, which is a slippery slope toward legislation easing the way to this punishment, which is the goal of the bill’s sponsors.

The gallows will not win the war on terror, but only increase the damage to Israel’s moral strength. The biggest threat to terror is a diplomatic alternative, which is seen by Israel’s government as a greater threat than terror itself.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel

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