Brushing off criticism by the Shin Bet security service, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Monday vowed to advance legislation to impose the death penalty on convicted Palestinian killers of Israeli civilians and soldiers, noting that even “liberal” Boston had sought capital punishment for the 2013 marathon bomber.
At the weekly Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting in the Knesset, attended by representatives of bereaved Israeli families whose relatives were killed in terror attacks, Liberman said the bill would be brought to a preliminary reading on Wednesday.
“Every additional terrorist who enters Israeli prisons alive serves as an incentive to all other terrorists to kidnap Israeli citizens, to kill soldiers, and then to enter negotiations [with Israel] to bargain for the release of other terrorists in prison,” said Liberman.
The head of the Shin Bet internal security service on Sunday told lawmakers he opposed the death penalty for attackers. On Monday, Liberman acknowledged the criticism by Nadav Argaman, saying he “respects” all the leaders of Israel’s security forces, but disagrees with his stance.
“Unfortunately, there is no other way,” he said.
He also noted that Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death in “enlightened, liberal” Massachusetts in 2015.
“So in our day-in-day-out fight against terrorism, there is no reason we shouldn’t follow the biggest and strongest democracy in the world,” said Liberman.
Also speaking at the faction meeting was Devorah Gonen, whose son Danny was killed in a terror attack by a Palestinian gunman in 2015.
“I want to emphasize that no one wants to advance the death penalty for terrorists to punish anyone, but rather to create real deterrence, the kind that will convince the next terrorist to give up terror activities,” she said. “The goal is to save lives.
“No one and no thing will bring back my Danny,” Gonen added. “What we want to do is prevent the next murder.”
Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party made a death penalty for terrorists one of its central platforms in the 2015 election.
The bill would apply to those convicted of fatal acts of terrorism, based on the Israeli legal definition. In light of the existing law, a Yisrael Beytenu spokesperson confirmed to The Times of Israel, the death penalty would extend to Palestinians convicted of killing IDF soldiers as well as civilians.
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.
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.
The goal of the legislation, said Liberman on Monday, was to anchor the punishment in law, rather than leaving it to the “whims of the commanders.”
Previous Israeli governments, including those run by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have rejected the death penalty bill. The Yisrael Beytenu proposal was most recently voted down by lawmakers in 2015, at Netanyahu’s orders, 94-6 (the six being Yisrael Beytenu lawmakers).
But last week, Yisrael Beytenu said the proposal would again be advanced, after Israeli coalition leaders agreed on a draft bill.
The Shin Bet chief is not alone in opposing the death penalty. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has also reportedly come out against capital punishment, arguing that it would not serve to dissuade terrorists from carrying out attacks, as they generally commit them with the assumption that they won’t survive.