A bill making it easier to sentence terrorists to death passed its first reading in the Knesset, but the legislation’s chances of passing into law depend on the Prime Minister’s ability to keep his fragile coalition intact.
By: Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News
In a preliminary vote on Wednesday, the Knesset narrowly voted by a vote of 52-49 to support a bill that purports to make it easier for military courts to sentence to death terrorists who commit murder. The “Terrorist Death Penalty” bill proposes that an ordinary majority of judges, rather than a unanimous vote, would be given the authority to mete out the death penalty. Political pundits and longtime advocates of the death penalty say that political considerations allowed the bill to pass a preliminary reading, but chances that the proposal will become law are unlikely.
The bill, sponsored by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, needs to pass three rounds of voting at the Knesset in order to become a law. At Wednesday’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation, Liberman reportedly pounded on the table, and demanded that the law be advanced in accordance with a commitment his party purportedly received in the 2015 coalition agreement.
Apparently responding to the threat, Prime Minister Netanyahu pushed the bill through the committee and then made the unusual decision to address the plenum before the vote, where he announced his full support for the bill.
Coalition politics or justice?
In his address, Netanyahu denied that the bill was the result of coalition politics and he said that there are extreme cases where the death penalty suits the crime. Netanyahu told the Knesset, “A person who slaughters and laughs should not spend his life behind bars but deserves to be put to death.”
Opposition Knesset member Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) spoke out against the bill saying, “I have no compassion or sorrow for terrorists, but this legislation is reckless, 100 percent politics.” She added that “The defense establishment opposes the death penalty.”
Indeed, the Shin Bet security service has voiced objections to the bill warning that sentencing a terrorist to death could trigger a wave of kidnappings of Jews around the world. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said he opposes the bill and so did Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who on Thursday spoke against the law which she called unnecessary because “the death penalty is already on the books.”
National Infrastructure Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) is leading the opposition within the cabinet, despite a clear coalition commitment signed by Likud, headed by Netanyahu, and Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu.
The Terrorist Death Penalty legislation is but the latest in a series of bills reaching the floor of the Knesset due to coalition considerations. The Recommendations Bill regarding police recommendations for prosecution of public figures was pushed by Likud, the Convenience Store bill calling for Sabbath store closings was demanded by Shas and United Torah Judaism, and the Jerusalem Bill requiring an 80-member majority to cede parts of the capital was pushed through by HaBayit HaYehudi pressure. In effect all coalition parties are looking to score points with their base ahead of possible early elections if the coalition collapses.
Is Netanyahu ‘between a rock and hard place’?
Prime Minister Netanyahu is “between a rock and a hard place,” says political pundit Mitchell Barak. Barak told World Israel News (WIN), “In general Netanyahu’s coalitions are like a circus juggler with 65 spinning plates and you can’t keep them in the air forever. Eventually they come crashing down.”
Almagor Terror Victims Association chairman Meir Indor has long favored the death penalty for terrorists but considers the Liberman bill to be “election spin” and charged that the Defense Ministry already has the option of invoking the death penalty. Indor told WIN, “Liberman can use existing laws already the books. He chooses not to. I don’t like that he is using this bill on the backs of terror victims.”
Asked about whether there are those who deserve the death penalty, Indor told WIN, “I am in favor of invoking the death penalty because what we have now is in effect prison hotels for murderers. There are currently dozens of terrorists in prison who deserve the death sentence and we are too soft. Netanyahu’s speech did not surprise me and I believe that he is the only one that can force a change. Most of his cabinet and coalition are opposed to using the death penalty and I cannot understand why except for political interests.”