Liberman says he’ll legislate death penalty for terrorists

Slamming government for releasing security prisoners, FM says Israel ‘constantly creates and strengthens their hope’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on February 9, 2014, (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on February 9, 2014, (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called for the death penalty for terrorists Tuesday, harshly criticizing previous Israeli governments for agreeing to free thousands of security prisoners.

“We have to signal that we’re changing direction. No more deals [to release prisoners]. Rather, the opposite: The first law that we will propose in the next Knesset will be the death penalty for terrorists. We must not give them hope,” he said at a conference in Tel Aviv.

Given that the death penalty exists in the United States, and the fact that Jordan and Egypt bombed Islamic State targets in response to the killings of its respective citizens, Israel has no choice but to start executing terrorists, the foreign minister argued. “Otherwise we invite more terror and yet more terror.”

Liberman said that global terrorism is currently the world’s foremost challenge, and that Israel in particular must drastically alter the way it deals with terrorists.

“We created hope for terrorist organizations, all the terrorists who fight against Israel. Instead of building an iron wall and telling them they have no chance [because] we will fight, we constantly create and strengthen their hope,” he said.

“Time and again we release groups of terrorists, and each of them has hope. They’re not afraid; they know that at the end of the day we will surrender,” Liberman added. “We released thousands of terrorists over the last decades, terrorists responsible for the most horrible attacks. It’s simply a wrong message. It encourages terrorism and creates more terrorists.”

In theory, capital punishment exists in Israel (for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, treason and crimes against the Jewish people), but it hasn’t been implemented since the execution of Adolf Eichman in 1962. Right-wing politicians have indicated support in principle for the death penalty for terrorists, but a law that would establish a minimum punishment for a crime as loosely defined as “terrorism” would likely be struck down by the Supreme Court.

Speaking at the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, Liberman criticized the conduct of the outgoing government — of which he was a member — during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, arguing that the war’s ambiguous outcome invited future attacks from the strip. It was clear that at least one more round of violence with Hamas in Gaza was inevitable, he lamented, saying Israel should strive for a “decisive victory” in every military campaign. Otherwise, he added, “we will simply lose out big time.”

Liberman lauded the international community’s resolve to fight the Islamic State group, praising Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Jordanian King Abdullah II for having launched airstrikes at the terrorist group, and US President Barack Obama for seeking authorization to launch a ground operation against it.

He posited that present-day terrorists were similar to the Nazis in that they sanctify death as a supreme value and were interested in martyrdom and killing as many innocents as possible.

“That’s the essence of modern terror. They live to die and aren’t rational actors,” Liberman said. “The Nazi regime likewise wasn’t rational; it was guided by various insane ideologies. They were ready to fight the entire world. Today, we face the same in a different version.”

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