‘To the electric chair’: Ben Gvir to push for death penalty after Jerusalem attack

Minister says he’ll advance controversial legislation for certain terror offenses that others have repeatedly failed to pass

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir leads an Otzma Yehudit faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 30, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir leads an Otzma Yehudit faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 30, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said Monday he would advance legislation allowing Israel to impose the death penalty for certain terror offenses, vowing to take action in the wake of Friday’s deadly shooting attack in East Jerusalem.

Instituting a death penalty for terrorists had already been high on the coalition’s agenda before the attack in the capital’s Neve Yaakov neighborhood Friday, which has re-energized calls for harsher punitive action against Palestinian perpetrators as well as more severe deterrent measures.

“Anyone who murders, harms and slaughters civilians should be sent to the electric chair,” Ben Gvir said at the outset of his Otzma Yehudit party’s faction meeting in the Knesset.

On Sunday, Ben Gvir promised to bring a bill imposing the death penalty to the Knesset soon, following a cabinet meeting that largely focused on security tensions.

“I hope we will pass it with a big majority,” he said in a statement then.

Seven people were killed Friday evening when a Palestinian attacker opened fire on people near a synagogue in Neve Yaakov. On Saturday, a 13-year-old Palestinian shot and wounded two people outside the capital’s Old City. The attacks followed a Thursday morning Israeli military raid in Jenin that sparked intense clashes leaving nine Palestinians dead, including at least one civilian.

Security and rescue forces at the scene of a deadly terror shooting attack in Neve Yaakov, Jerusalem, January 27, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel’s legal code includes capital punishment but only for exceedingly rare cases — Nazi mastermind Adolf Eichmann was one of only two people executed by the state in almost 75 years. Right-wing politicians, including some in the current opposition, have long pushed for a law imposing the death penalty on terrorists, but efforts have fizzled without sufficient support and due to legal issues. In 2017, Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman proposed a bill allowing a court to execute any terrorist whose attack results in a victim’s death, and former justice minister Ayelet Shaked pushed for capital punishment to be imposed over any attack that results in a child’s slaying.

In 2016, then-attorney general Avichai Mandelblit submitted a legal opinion to the government 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.

In 2018, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu okayed lawmakers to push ahead with a death penalty bill despite professional opposition. At the time, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman told Knesset lawmakers that he was unequivocally against to the measure.

“It’s not helpful,” Argaman said then. Nonetheless, a poll in 2017 found that over 70 percent of Israeli Jews backed the measure to some degree.

Ben Gvir has pointed to large celebrations earlier this month for Palestinian terrorists freed from prison after serving decades for killing a soldier as proof for the need to execute convicted terrorists.

Arab Israeli Karim Younis is carried by friends and relatives following his release after 40 years in an Israeli prison for kidnapping and murdering an Israeli soldier, on January 5, 2023, in the northern Israeli town of ‘Ara. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

During his remarks Monday, the minister said he took responsibility for dealing with the attack, and appeared to again preemptively accuse Attorney General Gili Baharav-Miara of obstructing him, as part of an ongoing tussle with her.

“I asked the police to prepare a list of targets and gather intelligence. For me, the solution is to move from neighborhood to neighborhood” to collect weapons, “but if at the moment we are prevented from doing so, then we will definitely make a list of targets and intelligence, because this is our number one task, to collect the weapons,” he said.

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