stormy session

In Knesset, far-right lawmakers clash with hostages’ relatives

Knesset National Security Committee chairman Zvika Fogel called a meeting to advance a bill to impose the death penalty on terrorists, even after some hostages’ families asked to call off the discussion


The relatives of hostages held in Gaza attend a Knesset National Security Committee meeting to advance a bill by MK Limor Son Har-Melech to impose the death penalty on terrorists

The petty politics and shouting matches that so often characterize the Knesset may have been on hiatus in wartime, but they were back in full force on Monday, with members of National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party screaming at relatives of hostages being held in Gaza, bringing some to tears.

Knesset National Security Committee chairman Zvika Fogel of Otzma Yehudit called a meeting to advance a bill by MK Limor Son Har-Melech, of the same party, to impose the death penalty on terrorists, even after some hostages’ families asked to call off the discussion for fear that that the legislation could negatively impact their loved ones still in captivity. 

The move did not have support from other coalition parties and Likud said it would block the bill.

Son Har Melech’s bill states that the courts may only impose the death penalty, and no other punishment, on someone convicted of killing an Israeli with the motives of racism or “to harm the State of Israel and the revival of the Jewish people in our land.”

Israel already has laws permitting the death penalty for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The only civil execution in the history of the Jewish state was the hanging of Nazi mastermind Adolf Eichmann in 1961. 

The death penalty for terrorists has come up repeatedly in Israeli politics in the past decade, with Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beytenu party campaigning for it in 2015, and the Knesset advancing a bill on the matter in 2018, which ultimately did not become law.

Fogel said on Monday that the bill’s opponents have been manipulated by Hamas.

“I’m hinting that Hamas is trying to exploit you, yes – and I’m not hinting. I’m saying it openly,” Fogel told the relatives of one of the hostages. “This [bill] does not contradict the goal of bringing back the hostages and anyone who tries to present it as a contradiction is someone who is trying to represent Hamas more than the State of Israel.”

Gil Dickmann, cousin of hostage Carmel Gat, 39, broke down in tears, saying, “I begged you to stop…Please remove this from the agenda. If you have a heart, please do not say we are representing the people who murdered our loved ones.”

“Please, choose life and ensure they come home alive and whole,” he added.

A man whose wife and daughter are held hostage by Hamas shouted, “Stop talking about killing Arabs and start talking about saving Jews.”

Otzma Yehudit MK Almog Cohen, a resident of Ofakim in Israel’s south, said that the hostages’ families have “no mandate over pain,” because he, too, has a friend held hostage and lost others in Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre of Israelis. Cohen doubled down on the language in an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 later that day.

Son Har Melech, whose husband was murdered in a terrorist attack, accused the hostages’ relatives in the room of “silencing other families.”

In an apparent attempt at damage control, Ben-Gvir posted a picture of himself hugging Dickmann and saying he “loves and embraces the hostages’ families,” while maintaining that the bill should become law to pressure Hamas.

Dickmann, however, posted in response: “Take your hands off me…I told you: don’t hug me. You hugged anyway. I told you: Don’t put our loved ones at risk. Still, you took a risk. All for the picture.

“Itamar Ben Gvir – You have no limits,” he added. “Everyone sees that you are making a circus about the blood of our families. It’s not too late. Stop.”

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