Israel's Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef on Saturday night came out against Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman's bill proposal that seeks to ease restrictions on capital punishment for terrorists.
According to Yosef, the execution of Palestinian terrorists could cause outrage in the world and thus risk the lives of Jews living abroad.
In addition, the chief rabbi expressed concern that the death penalty might in the future also apply to Jewish terrorists who murdered Arabs, while capital punishment is forbidden according to Halacha (Jewish law).
"What's the benefit here? All security officials say there is not much benefit to it. That is why all of the great, true sages were always against the death penalty," Yosef said. "It's not about left-wing or right-wing. It's about careful consideration. A smart man, a great man, considers these things."
The contentious legislation passed a preliminary Knesset vote last week, with the ultra-Orthodox Shas party voting in favor.
While the Sephardic chief rabbi does not make official Halachic ruling for the Shas party since his official office precludes him from intervening in political matters, many in the Sephardic Haredi public see him as the successor of his father, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Shas, and give his words much credence.
Now, the Shas party would have a hard time supporting Lieberman's bill proposal without seriously examining the Halachic aspect, as the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party had done, leading its members to skip the vote last week so as to not have to support the legislation.
Today military courts are authorized to impose the death penalty on convicted terrorists on condition that the decision is unanimously taken by the panel of three judges.
The new legislation, however, seeks to significantly moderate the criteria by allowing for a simple majority of a military court panel to hand out such a sentence, while simultaneously extending the jurisdiction over the matter into the realm of civilian courts and making it impossible to commute a death penalty that was pronounced in a final verdict.
Addressing the Knesset plenum on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he backed the rationale behind the bill.
"There are extreme situations of people who commit terrible crimes and therefore do not deserve to live, they deserve the full amount of punishment," Netanyahu continued. "We support a change in the law for these situations, and especially on the ability to make a decision not under the guidance of the government or the defense minister, but on the basis of the opinion of two out of three judges. This is the main change we are interested in."
MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List), who headed the discussion in the plenum, implied to the bill's supposed discriminatory nature, asking the prime minister whether he would support the application of the bill in cases of Jewish terrorists as well.
Not missing a beat, Netanyahu replied: "In principle, yes."