Knesset rejects bill on death penalty for terrorists

Opposed for now by Netanyahu, proposal falls by 94-6, with only Yisrael Beytenu MKs supporting it

MK Sharon Gal addresses the Israeli parliament during a debate on his "death sentence for terrorists" bill,  July 15, 2015. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
MK Sharon Gal addresses the Israeli parliament during a debate on his "death sentence for terrorists" bill, July 15, 2015. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

The Knesset on Wednesday voted down a bill proposed by Yisrael Beytenu that would have enabled judges to more easily sentence a terrorist to death.

The bill was rejected in its first reading by 94-6, with all six “yes” votes coming from members of Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had ordered lawmakers from his Likud party to oppose the bill, saying it needed further examination from a legal perspective.

The measure, proposed by Yisrael Beytenu MK Sharon Gal, would have made it easier for military and district courts to sentence to death those convicted of murder with nationalist motives.

Netanyahu has tasked an interparty commission led by senior Likud MK Yariv Levin to scrutinize proposed legislation on the issue before formulating coalition policy.

Until Netanyahu stepped in, the bill was to have been debated by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which gives government support to bills being proposed in the Knesset.

Yariv Levin. (Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Yariv Levin. (Uri Lenz/Flash90)

The bill had the support of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, Culture Minister Miri Regev, Science Minister Danny Danon, Minister of Immigrant Absorption Ze’ev Elkin and Minister Ofir Akunis.

Regev, Danon and Akunis all belong to Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein had also indicated Sunday he would nix the legislation in its current form on legal grounds — or at least postpone it indefinitely, until the state prosecutor hands down a ruling on the legality of such a law.

Even though capital punishment is technically legal in Israel, it has only been practiced once, in 1962, when high-ranking Nazi SS officer Adolf Eichmann was sentenced to death for his role in orchestrating the Holocaust.

The bill proposes that convicted terrorists can be sentenced to death with a simple majority of judges, rather than the unanimous decision required under current law.

The death penalty bill was a key election promise of Yisrael Beytenu leader Liberman. Gal, the lawmaker who proposed the bill, said that the party had made a promise to voters, “and we’re determined to make it happen. We must change the current situation and eradicate terrorism,” he said.

“Death sentences will strengthen Israel’s deterrence. It’s moral and ethical to legislate it in order to save the lives of our citizens. It has broad support among the people — it’s clear to everyone that it’s a law that must pass,” he added.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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