Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman, now a member of the Knesset’s opposition, on Tuesday accused the government of obstructing a bill that aims to make it easier for Israel to sentence convicted Palestinian terrorists to death.
But the chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, Jewish Home MK Nissan Slomianksy, denied Liberman’s charge that the legislation was being held up in his committee, though he also signaled there were disagreements within the coalition about the bill.
Liberman said the committee’s failure to vote on Tuesday to approve the death penalty for terrorists bill for a first reading in the Knesset was precisely the kind of action that drove him to pull his right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party out of the government and into the opposition. He resigned from the cabinet last week following differences over a ceasefire reached with the Hamas terror group in Gaza.
Yisrael Beytenu had sought to finalize the text on Tuesday, but no vote was held.
Liberman said committee chair Slomiansky had delayed a vote on the bill on orders “from above,” referring to coalition leaders.
“Yisrael Beytenu sees in this a clear violation by the coalition of its commitment to the voting public and bereaved families. This is another reason why Yisrael Beytenu decided to leave the current government and coalition. Yisrael Beytenu wants a right-wing government in actions, not words,” Liberman said in a statement.
Slomiansky, in response, denied the bill had been put on ice by order of coalition leaders and blasted the “shameful” and “untrue” claim, noting that one Yisrael Beytenu lawmaker had arrived at the tail-end of Tuesday’s meeting and Liberman hadn’t been present at all.
“By us, in contrast to other parties, we do not ‘receive orders’ but rather reach agreements,” said the Jewish Home lawmaker. “It was clarified at the start of the meeting: the bill, which has opponents even within the coalition, is being advanced so long as there is no other decision.”
Slomiansky said the bill’s future had been placed under doubt after Yisrael Beytenu bolted from the coalition, but he would continue to advance it until ordered otherwise.
“I didn’t stop advancing the bill,” he told the hearing, “but I checked with the coalition chairman if there is any change and he asked to wait in order to speak with [Yisrael Beytenu].”
“At the moment I am advancing the bill of my own accord,” he continued. “You moved to the opposition but in your essence you are part of the coalition.”
The statement from the committee did not say when lawmakers will vote to approve the draft of the legislation for a first Knesset vote.
The bill, which is sponsored by Yisrael Beytenu, in January passed a preliminary reading in Knesset despite reservations by some coalition lawmakers. Its progress since then has been repeatedly delayed due to opposition from the security establishment.
Yisrael Beynteu MK Robert Ilatov, one of the authors of the bill, said he had not heard of any change in the plan to advance his legislation but predicted it was more likely to be dropped than advanced by the committee.
Ilatov also addressed opposition to the bill from senior figures in the security establishment, among them Shin Bet security service chief Nadav Argaman. Ilatov said that before the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May, there were those who feared it would spark a religious war, but in the end the embassy moved without major incident.
Although the death penalty formally exists in Israeli law, it has only ever been used once — in 1962 in the case of Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust. It is technically allowed in cases of high treason, as well as in certain circumstances under the martial law that applies within the IDF and in the West Bank, but currently requires a unanimous decision from a panel of three judges, and has never been implemented.
The bill championed by Liberman would allow a simple majority of two to one judges to impose the death penalty.
In a statement Tuesday, the Knesset committee stressed that the bill has not yet been debated by the powerful Ministerial Committee for Legislation, a step needed for the bill to receive the backing of the coalition and ease its path through parliament.
Liberman caused a coalition crisis last Wednesday when he resigned from the government over criticism of a ceasefire deal with Hamas. Liberman opposed the ceasefire and had called for a more forceful response to the barrage of hundreds of rockets which killed one person, injured dozens of others and caused significant damage to buildings. Israel responded with airstrikes against 150 targets in Gaza.