Netanyahu shelves death penalty bill for convicted terrorists

Prime minister orders Likud lawmakers to vote against proposal that would see courts empowered to hand down capital punishment

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on July 12, 2015. (Emil Salman/POOL)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on July 12, 2015. (Emil Salman/POOL)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered lawmakers from his Likud faction Sunday to oppose a bill that would institute the death penalty for convicted terrorists, until after it can be sufficiently examined from a legal perspective.

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

Netanyahu tasked an interparty commission led by senior Likud MK Yariv Levin to scrutinize the law before formulating coalition policy.

Until then, Netanyahu said, Likud lawmakers are to vote against the act, which was to be up for debate Sunday at 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 already has 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.

But even the bill passed the committee, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein indicated he would nix it 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.

Sharon Gal. (photo credit: courtesy Radio tel Aviv)
Sharon Gal. (courtesy Radio Tel Aviv)

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 Avigdor 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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