Contra Proposed Bill: Strike Death Penalty from Israel’s Legal Code!

Israel’s right-wing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is yet again escalating his war against the Palestinian people. Netanyahu recently gave the green light to legislation that would make it easier for Israeli courts to impose the death penalty against Palestinians accused of carrying out “acts of terrorism” which result in fatalities. Subsequently, on Wednesday, November 14, the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee renewed its discussion of just such a bill.

Doctor of jurisprudence, Hadash MK Yousef Jabareen: “I know of no such legislation.”

Doctor of jurisprudence, Hadash MK Yousef Jabareen: “I know of no such legislation.” (Photo: Al Ittihad)

While Israel has a law permitting the death penalty, no executions have been carried out in the country since the 1962 execution of the Nazi SS officer Adolf Eichmann. The bill passed a preliminary vote in committee last January, and it is currently preparing the legislation for a first reading before the plenum.

MK Oded Forer (Yisrael Beitenu), one of the bill’s sponsors, said the purpose of instituting capital punishment for terrorists is “not revenge, but deterrence.” MK Benny Begin (Likud) said he has been opposed to the death penalty since he entered the Knesset 30 years ago. “This bill is damaging and foolish, and I will vote against it,” he told the committee.

MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) said, “It’s disgraceful that a government which is paralyzed from a political and security perspective weekly brings more extreme bills to the Knesset to demonstrate how it is ‘becoming stronger’ in the face of terror. The tremendous damage that is being done to Israel’s legal code, particularly by this committee, is making Israel continuously less moral. The death penalty should be entirely removed from out legal code. We maintain that we want to be a ‘light unto the nations’… [but] the death penalty is cowardice.”

Hadash MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) noted, “This [initiative] is nothing but vindictiveness, and we cannot separate this current debate from the approaching elections. The attempt to garner political capital from feelings of hate and vengefulness is the only card that Yisrael Beitenu has left to play. Capital punishment is unacceptable, based on any democratic criterion. The global trend is to abolish capital punishment. Why shouldn’t capital punishment have been imposed in a murder case such as that of Tair Rada?” [Editor’s note: Tair Rada was a 13 year old Jewish Israeli girl murdered in 2006 by Roman Zadarov, a Ukrainian citizen who was working in Israel at the time.] “The considerations are the same considerations, and thus there’s no choice but to conclude that this [legislative initiative] is solely about vengefulness – of the occupier against the occupied. The Israeli government has been unsuccessful in maintaining the military occupation for decades and it is therefore seeking other ways of exercising force and oppression.”

MK Jabareen also cast doubt about the entire legal mechanism worded in the proposed bill, whereby the minister of defense will instruct the military commander of the area in which the trial for the capital crime is taking place that a simple majority of the presiding justices – as opposed to a unanimous decision – is sufficient to impose the death penalty. To this the Hadash MK, who is also a doctor of jurisprudence, remarked: “I know of no such legislation…”  MK Forer broke into the Jabareen’s words, saying: “I am prepared to pay for MK Jabareen’s flight ticket back to where he came from.” In response, MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) called MK Forer “a hot tempered bully and a chatterbox void of content.”

As Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) told reporters last January when the bill was initially approved in committee, the law is “intended mainly for the Palestinian people. It’s not going to be implemented against Jews who commit terrorist attacks against Palestinians, for sure,” as the bill is being drafted and championed by the country’s extreme right.

Related: Posts on the death penalty