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Germany tells Israel death penalty would be a mistake

February 28, 2023

At a meeting of foreign ministers, Germany's Annalena Baerbock urged Israel to abandon a plan to start executing terrorists. Her Israeli counterpart, meanwhile, warned that Iran now poses a threat to Europe.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen address a joint press conference
The ministers spoke about Iran and recent events in IsraelImage: Odd Andersen/AFP

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Tuesday said she had conveyed strong objections to Israel over its plans to introduce mandatory death penalties for people convicted of terrorist killings of Israeli citizens.

She spoke after a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, with a first vote on capital punishment expected to take place in Israel's parliament, the Knesset, on Wednesday.

Baerbock said Germany was consistent in its approach to the death penalty and made this point regularly to other allies — such as G7 members the United States and Japan — who still routinely use capital punishment.

"We are firmly opposed to the death penalty, and we are raising this issue all over the world," Baerbock said at a press conference in Berlin alongside her Israeli counterpart, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new right-wing government.

"All over the world, states are in the process of abandoning this cruel practice, partly because it has been proven that it is not effective as a deterrent," Baerbock said.

The foreign minister said it was a credit to Israel that, despite the considerable terrorist threats it has long faced, the country's civilian courts had imposed capital punishment only once: against the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in the 1960s.

"That has always been an impressive argument for those of us who have defended Israel on the international stage against unfair criticism," Baerbock said. "I, therefore, say as a friend: I am convinced that it would be a big mistake to break with this history."

The Israeli penal code theoretically includes provisions for capital punishment but only in rare cases.

Baerbock's comments came after the Israeli Cabinet nodded through a bill that would impose the death penalty on terrorists found guilty of killing Israeli citizens. The legislation must still pass several readings by lawmakers before it can be enacted.

Israeli-American killed as violence in West Bank intensifies

There have been previous attempts to pass such bills in Israel, and this one is regarded as unlikely to succeed. Members of ultra-Orthodox coalition parties are expected to vote against it for religious reasons.

At Tuesday's press conference, Cohen urged Baerbock to "do everything in your power" to convince Palestinian authorities to take "decisive action" to stop terror attacks. He highlighted the killings of two Israeli brothers near Nablus on Sunday and an Israeli-American man near Jericho on Monday. 

Iran poses a threat to Europe, says Israel

The foreign ministers also spoke about the nuclear threat posed by Iran, with Cohen saying it was time to reimpose sanctions and put a "credible military option" on the table.

"This is the time to take action," Cohen said. "Germany, as a European and a world power, must send a clear message that only strong actions will have strong results."

The minister, who visited Kyiv earlier this month, said Russia's use of Iranian drones to inflict devastation on Ukraine underlined the widening threat.

Israel: Fresh violence threatens to derail peace efforts

"Iran is no longer just a regional problem but also a problem to Europe and the world as one," he said. 

Germany's foreign minister said a report that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors had found uranium enriched to 84% purity was of utmost concern. Uranium enriched up to 90% purity is considered nuclear weapons-grade.

"There is no plausible civilian justification for such a high grade of enrichment," Baerbock said. "Iran must not be allowed to acquire a nuclear bomb. This is our common stance and this is the goal of our diplomatic efforts."

"The consequences of such an escalation would be devastating for the entire region," she said.

Iran agreed to a deal with the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany and the European Union in 2015 by signing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), often referred to as the Iran nuclear deal. The agreement restricted the country's nuclear program, in particular limiting the enrichment of uranium.

Under the administration of President Donald Trump, the United States withdrew from the deal unilaterally in 2018. Since then, Tehran has gradually breached its provisions, and efforts to revive the deal since Joe Biden became US president in 2021 have stalled.

rc/msh (dpa, Reuters, AFP, AP)