Michael Zoosman

Gov. DeSantis’ Death Penalty Pledges for Holocaust Remembrance Day

A photo of the author Cantor Zoosman's family, many of whom were murdered in the Holocaust. No copyright.

In a wanton pursuit of political aspirations, Governor Ron DeSantis is seeking to unleash the shadow of the Angel of Death upon Florida, threatening to irrevocably darken the Sunshine State with a cascade of state-sponsored murder, even as the world today observes International Holocaust Remembrance Day. 

Gov. DeSantis recently declared his hope of changing state law so that a unanimous jury no longer is required to secure a death sentence. “Fine, have a supermajority,” DeSantis told the Florida Sheriffs Association. “But you can’t just say one person votes no…maybe eight out of 12 or something.” The next day, De Santis signed the death warrant of Donald Dillbeck, a man sentenced to state murder by the very same non-unanimous vote of exactly 8 out of 12 jurors, at a time before such a vote was rendered unconstitutional in the state. (Currently, Alabama is the only state that allows a non-unanimous vote for state-sponsored murder to stand.) The previous death warrant that DeSantis signed as governor was in September 2019 for the execution of James Dailey, an innocent US Air Force veteran who was wrongfully convicted. Mercifully, the execution was delayed by the courts and never rescheduled. To cap off the week, on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, DeSantis has declared his hope to expand the reach of the Angel of Death by allowing state murder for non-lethal offenses.

DeSantis has crossed yet another Rubicon in violating the sanctity of human life. He has effectively opened Pandora’s box for the politically-motivated slaughter of human beings in his state, both the innocent like James Dailey and the guilty like Donald Dillbeck. This pact macabre in Florida is indeed a warning that a President DeSantis would doubtless continue the Federal Execution Spree of 2020-2021, which saw the Trump administration order the state murder of 12 men and 1 woman in the names of all Americans. 

We, the thousands of members of “L’chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty”, are keenly aware of the existential threat posed by any politician who is willing to dole out death for personal gain. As we observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day as of the day of this writing, Jan. 27th, it is at the very forefront of the minds of many members of our group who – like myself – are second-, third- and fourth-generation Holocaust survivors. We know better than most that the Holocaust was a singularly devastating event in the course of human history. We also know well that the lessons learned from that mass murder must lead to action if in fact “Never Again” is to have any meaning at all. We wrote about this at length in our recent Times of Israel blog post entitled: “Holocaust Remembrance Day, Robert Roberson and the Texas ‘Machinery of Death.’” 

Indeed, every single business day, members of our group make phone calls to American political leaders like De Santis who hold in their hands the Divine power to grant life and death to our condemned pen pals. In these calls, we remind our political leaders that lethal injection, the most popular murder method, was first implemented in our world by the Nazis as part of their infamous Aktion T4 Protocol used to kill people deemed “unworthy of life,” as designed by Dr. Karl Brandt, personal physician of Adolf Hitler. We explain how every use of this so-called “Nazi needle” or any form of state-sponsored murder directly carries on the Nazi legacy of the same. Some jurisdictions in our nation offer the gruesome “Sophie’s Choice, 2.0” of making the condemned choose their form of execution, which in some states includes the option of the gas chamber. In Arizona, that chamber features death by Zyklon B itself – the very gas used in Auschwitz. For these states, we amend our script accordingly…

Seventy-percent of the nations of the world have recognized that the power to kill those we incarcerate is not one that any government official or body should hold. They have learned well the lesson conveyed by Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel (1928-2016) in his famous words on capital punishment, exclaiming: “With every cell of my being and with every fiber of my memory I oppose the death penalty in all forms. I do not believe any civilized society should be at the service of death. I don’t think it’s human to become an agent of the angel of death.” This is our anthem in L’chaim, as is Weisel’s famous comment about capital punishment that “Death is not the answer.” 

It is profoundly fitting that Wiesel connected the idea of Malakh HaMavet – The Angel of Death – with the death penalty. In this week’s portion of the Torah that Jews across the world study, we read in the book of Exodus about how our ancestors in Egypt did all they could so that this same “Destroyer” – the Angel of Death – would pass over their homes on their quest for spiritual freedom. (Ex 12: 23) Though we are not Moses, we shall indeed follow his example: we shall continue our pursuit of restorative justice with the necessary evolution of the famous Torah charge, chanting: “Abolition, Abolition Shall you Pursue!”  We welcome all allies who wish to join us in our quest to put an end to the American cycle of violence and death by joining “L’chaim!” and by perusing the various Jewish Actions and Resources on the Death Penalty that we have collected from Jewish leaders across the world.

Together, we shall one day succeed in making this manmade Angel of Death pass over our nation, and eventually our world… 

Please join us in our peaceful mission to do just this, and lend your voice as we chant: “L’chaim…to Life!”

Cantor Michael Zoosman, MSM,

Board Certified Chaplain, Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains

Co- Founder: “L’chaim: Jews Against the Death Penalty” 

Advisory Board Member, Death Penalty Action

Note: An original version of this post appeared as an op-ed in the Florida newspaper The Sun-Sentinel under the title “DeSantis and the Death Penalty” 

About the Author
Cantor Michael Zoosman is a Board Certified Chaplain with Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains (NAJC) and received his cantorial investiture from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 2008. He sits as an Advisory Committee Member at Death Penalty Action and is the co-founder of “L’chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty.” Michael is a former Jewish prison chaplain and psychiatric hospital chaplain. Currently, he is a multi-faith hospital chaplain at a federal research hospital, the National Institutes of Health - Clinical Center. His comments here represent his own opinions.
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