Sparks fly over Israel’s death penalty bill for terrorists

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman stormed out of a cabinet meeting after another minister opposed his party’s flagship bill, which later passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

During Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, which had been convened to discuss the deportation of African infiltrators, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz challenged a bill proposed by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. The law would make it easier to apply the death penalty to terrorists.

Visibly angered, the defense minister reminded the assembled that the bill had been part of the coalition agreement when the government was formed, which he argued would make further debate over the legislation moot.

Steinitz replied, “In such a matter, which can harm the State of Israel, a discussion must be held, and according to the government’s regulations, without discussion the ministers cannot support it. Even if there are coalition agreements, there is room to voice an additional opinion.”

When Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman also noted the government has no unified position on the bill, Liberman reportedly called him a “liar” and stormed out of the meeting.

The current law applies only in military court, and a death sentence requires the unanimous decision of all three judges. Liberman seeks to change this to allow such a sentence to be passed by a simple majority of two. The new bill permits the defense minister to instruct the military prosecution to request the death penalty and grants authority to implement an overall policy of capital punishment for terrorists.

After Liberman left the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exited to discuss the bill with him and they agreed that a cabinet discussion could be held after the vote in the Knesset. The law passed its preliminary reading 52-49 and will now go to committee to be prepared for the first reading.

The bill is the fulfillment of a campaign promise made several years ago by Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party.