The Knesset plenum on Wednesday passed in a preliminary vote the Death Penalty for Terrorists bill by a 55 to 9 majority. The bill gives a regional military court or its representative the power to sentence a defendant to death with a simple majority of a panel of judges and does not require a unanimous ruling.
So far, there hasn’t been any discussion of the methods by which convicted terrorist murderers would be executed. The electric chair has been mentioned, although “old sparky” is no longer in use in most of the US states that once relied on it. With the exception of the Utah firing squad, most US states that execute use gas or poison. Israel, whose tradition stems from the British Empire, uses the rope.
That brings up the question of who will be the hangman. We’ll get to it shortly.
The bill states that “a person who intentionally or through indifference causes the death of an Israeli citizen when the act leading to the death is motivated by racism or hostility toward a public, and with the aim of harming the State of Israel and the resurrection of the Jewish people – shall be put to death.”
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir stated: “There is nothing more true, proper, and decent, than the fact that precisely these days we pass the Death Penalty for Terrorists Act. I think this law is essential, and logical, will prevent kidnapping and bargaining, and, above all, can deter the terrorists. This is an important day and I only hope that together with the entire Israeli government, this entire coalition, we will pass it in three readings and succeed in bringing the terrorists to death.”
Not so fast. One coalition partner, United Torah Judaism, announced it does not support the bill, based on rabbinic objections, most notably by Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who warned that the executions of terrorists by Israel would endanger the lives of diaspora Jews.
A lot of silliness was also associated with the bill, such as the suggestion by Likud MK Nissim Vaturi that the execution would be done by stoning (skilla). There are numerous problems with this suggestion, which is great because it gives us a chance to study a little Torah.
The first problem with stoning is that it is one of the four methods of execution that must be meted out only by the Sanhedrin. To the best of my knowledge, we currently don’t have one, at least not one that is widely accepted.
The second problem is that stoning is used as punishment for idolatry, a virgin woman who had relations with a man who is not her fiancé, the man she had relations with, a Jew who desecrates Shabbat, a Jew who incites and encourages idol worship, a Jew who blasphemes, a Jew who curses out his father or mother, a man or woman who has bestial relations, a man who lies with another man, a man who lies with his mother, his father’s wife, his son’s wife, a disobedient son, a sorcerer, a soothsayer, and a bull that killed a man.
Nothing about terrorists.
Finally: once the courts start handing out the death penalty, who will carry it out? Who will be the hangperson to tighten the noose?
Funny you should ask. After four decades in which it hadn’t executed anyone (since 1976), Sri Lanka is starting to execute murderers and drug dealers. By hanging. But the last hangman in Sri Lanka retired in 2014 (after doing nothing since 1976!). So far, the attempts to replace him have been a bust – three hangmen were hired and all three resigned.
The Sri Lanka government posted help-wanted ads saying candidates, men ages 18 to 45, will undergo a psychiatric exam, and earn the equivalent of $208 a month with benefits.
There are 1,300 inmates on death row in Sri Lanka at the moment, so once they find their man, they’ll keep him busy.