A bill to allow the death penalty for convicted terrorists is likely to be opposed by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, according to Hebrew media reports.
Mandeblit is expected to submit a new legal opinion to cabinet ministers this week arguing against expanding Israel’s death penalty from its narrow application to Nazi war criminals to include Palestinian terrorists.
Israeli right-wing lawmakers, led by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, have called for expanding the death penalty to apply to certain kinds of terrorists.
A new bill, advanced by Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party, would allow any terrorist whose attack results in a victim’s death to be sentenced to death. It is seen as a bid to deter potential terrorists and as an attempt to reduce the number of terrorists jailed for lengthy periods in Israeli prisons, whose incarceration provides a motive for terror groups to attempt to kidnap Israeli civilians and soldiers in order to force Israel to carry out prisoner exchanges.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has backed a similar bill in recent years to allow for a death sentence in the case of a terrorist who murders children.
Israeli judges and law enforcement officials have long opposed the death penalty. Mandelblit himself submitted a legal opinion to the government last year in which he argued that a death sentence does not deter terrorists who already know they have a good chance of dying in the course of their attack.
Israel’s first and only official execution of an Israeli, Meir Tobiansky who was put to death for treason after a field court martial in 1948, was a traumatic experience as Tobiansky was found to be innocent and was publicly exonerated by then-prime minister David Ben-Gurion.
Only one person has ever been sentenced to death by a standing Israeli court: Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust.
The Ynet news site quoted “judicial sources” Tuesday who noted that “over two-thirds of the nations of the world have rolled back the death penalties. In the European Union, for example, the death penalty is forbidden. The only Western nation where the death penalty is carried out is the United States, and there, too, individual states have begun to ban the practice, seven of them just in the past decade.”
According to Mandelblit’s past legal opinions, Israel has also committed to abstaining from the death penalty in its statements to various international institutions over the years.
Though it has only ever been used in Eichmann’s case in 1962, the death penalty formally exists in Israeli law. It is technically allowed in cases of high treason, as well as in certain circumstances under the military law that applies within the IDF and in the West Bank.
But these exceptions, Mandelblit has noted in the past, are left over from British Mandatory law before Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence. Israeli laws passed since, such as the 1992 Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, are seen as contradicting and superseding them.