Liberman’s death penalty bill would reportedly apply to Arabs only

Likud source says legislation, seen unlikely to pass, would apply to military courts, where, unlike Jewish Israelis, Palestinians charged with terrorism are almost exclusively tried

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Lieberman leads a party meeting in the Knesset  on February 8, 2016. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Lieberman leads a party meeting in the Knesset on February 8, 2016. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

A controversial bill allowing the death penalty of convicted terrorists — reportedly part of a deal for having incoming Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beytenu party join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition — would in practice only apply to Palestinians, a Likud source was reported as saying Sunday.

A member of Netanyahu’s Likud party told the Haaretz daily that the controversial bill would only be applicable in Israel’s military courts, where Palestinians accused of terrorism or other related crimes, are often tried.

Meanwhile, Jews charged with terrorism offenses are almost exclusively tried in Israeli civilian courts, effectively excluding them from possibly receiving the death penalty, the source noted to the paper.

Netanyahu and Liberman were still negotiating their coalition agreement on Sunday.

A revival of the death penalty bill, rejected outright by the Knesset last year, was initially a key demand for Liberman to have his five-seat party join the coalition, in addition to the defense portflio.

A report on Israeli TV on Saturday said Liberman dropped the demand, but talks on the drafting of the bill continue.

The death penalty bill was a key election promise from Liberman ahead of the March 2015 Knesset elections, after which he chose not to enter Netanyahu’s Likud-led coalition.

In Israel, judges are only permitted to hand down capital punishments for crimes relating to the Holocaust war crime. The move to ease the restrictions in the application of the death penalty has sparked fierce debate in the country.

A top official from the center-right Kulanu party, a member of Netanyahu’s coalition, earlier on Sunday said his party would oppose any legislation that would give any court — civilian or military — the power to hand down a death sentence.

Last week, former attorney general Yehuda Weinstein called on his successor Avichai Mendelblit, to “vigorously” oppose the bill.

“There’s nothing like it in the world,” he told Haaretz Thursday. “There are no countries that added the death penalty to the book of law, only ones that took it off.

“It’s not practical in terms of deterrence, since these are criminals who anyhow act out of an ideological motive and aren’t afraid of death. It’s also immoral.”

First brought to the Knesset in 2015, the Yisrael Beytenu legislation proposed that convicted terrorists could be sentenced to death with a simple majority of judges, rather than the unanimous decision required under current law.

The Knesset overwhelmingly voted down the bill in a July vote, with Netanyahu ordering lawmakers from his Likud party to oppose the legislation, saying it needed further examination from a legal perspective.

It failed in its first reading by a vote of 94 to 6.

At the time of the vote, 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.

Israel has only carried out the death penalty once, in 1962, when high-ranking Nazi SS officer Adolf Eichmann was sentenced to death for his role in orchestrating the Holocaust.

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