Shin Bet chief ‘unequivocally’ against death penalty for terrorists

Nadav Argaman says legislation being pushed by defense minister to allow execution of Palestinian attackers is ‘not helpful’

Head of the Shin Bet security service Nadav Argaman attends the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset on November 6, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Head of the Shin Bet security service Nadav Argaman attends the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset on November 6, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Shin Bet security service chief Nadav Argaman said on Tuesday that he was “unequivocally” against a controversial bill that aims to make it easier for Israel to sentence convicted Palestinian attackers of civilians and soldiers to death.

Argaman was briefing the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on the growing instability in the Palestinian territories, warning lawmakers that the relative calm in the West Bank was a “deceptive quiet.”

“I unequivocally oppose the death penalty for terrorists — it’s not helpful,” he said in response to a question from Zionist Union MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin about the legislation, which is set to be debated in the Knesset next week.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave the go-ahead for lawmakers to advance the bill, reportedly going against the advice of the security establishment.

According to Israel Radio, Netanyahu told members of his coalition that opposition to the bill from both the Shin Bet and IDF should not stop them from advancing the legislation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in the Knesset, on October 24, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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, proposed by Yisrael Beytenu and championed by the party’s chairman, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, would allow a simple majority of two to one judges to impose the death penalty.

That legislation won initial backing in a January preliminary reading in the Knesset, despite some coalition lawmakers expressing reservations over the legislation. Its progress since then has been repeatedly delayed due to opposition from the security establishment.

On Tuesday, Liberman said the bill would be brought before a Knesset committee next week, and vowed the legislation would be passed into law.

“After over three years of a stubborn struggle, the death penalty for terrorists law will finally be brought to the law committee next Wednesday (November 14), and then for its first reading in the Knesset plenum,” Liberman said on Twitter.

“We won’t relent or stop until the mission has been completed.”

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz attends a plenum session at the Knesset in Jerusalem,
May 23, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A law to sentence attackers to death was one of Lieberman’s election promises in 2015, and government support for it was a condition for his party to join Netanyahu’s coalition.

At least one member of Netanyahu’s cabinet, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, said he would not vote in favor of the bill, citing concerns from the security establishment.

“I don’t intend to support imposing the death penalty without an in-depth discussion or a decision from the government and cabinet,” he tweeted.

“The opinion of the Shin Bet, IDF and the rest of our security services, [is that the bill] will do nothing to fight against terrorism and will cause greater harm. Such a move is a huge reward for terror groups and the other enemies of Israel.”

The Palestinian Authority on Tuesday said the bill was “a public invitation to commit murder, and execution, and carry out massacres against our Palestinian people.”

“This is a clear breach of laws, international and humanitarian,” a statement from the PA said.

AFP contributed to this report.

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