Michael Zoosman

‘L’chaim!’ Demands Increased Press Coverage of Global Executions

Image: The Official Logo for “L’chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty” features the Eitz Chaim (“Tree of Life”) at its center. L’chaim was formed in response to the federal killing spree of 2020-2021, when three of our penpals on Federal Death Row became execution victims. (No copyright.)

It is essential that international news outlets offer more press coverage of the executions that continue to plague our world. Though state killings remain a state secret in China, which is likely the worst global offender on this front, we do have ample information about other nations atop the state-murder ranks. This includes Iran, where it is an established fact that executions for political protesting, blasphemy and drug offenses are on the rise. As we strive for a united humanity, we must remember the compelling words of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” By extension, the state killing of any of us poses a collective threat to all of us. At “L’chaim, Jews Against the Death Penalty,” we remember the bone-chilling warning of yet another Rev. Martin – the Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” 

We cannot heed any of these warnings if we are not informed of state killings. We at L’chaim have members across our globe and have found that many individuals who are otherwise well-versed in current events are not aware of the majority of global executions being carried out until groups like L’chaim and others post about them on social media. This has been the observation of many members of L’chaim located in the United States, where we have noted abysmal reporting of both American executions (particularly in cases without any innocence claims) and state killings abroad. 

This glaring deficit equally applies to coverage in the non-American press, as the testimony of one of our members reveals. Karine Omry is a dedicated lifelong death penalty abolitionist who lives in Israel. Together with Jessica Leslie Hawkey, Karine is a co-founder of The Death Row Soul Collective, an organization that for years has advocated tirelessly for all individuals in line for state murder, and is in touch with men and women on death rows across the USA. Based upon her decades of experience, Karine has found that it seems as though “the European and Israeli media do not talk about the executions in the US. Executions in Iran are more often mentioned.” Karine’s regular examination of the Israeli and French press has led her to conclude that “many European countries never mention the American executions or [do so] very rarely.”

This reality cannot stand.

Screenshot from Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide database. Major international press outlets do not cover the vast majority of known executions listed here. No copyright. 

Like our friends at the Death Row Soul Collective, we at L’chaim are against the death penalty in every case, without exception. This includes even the case of the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooter, where we also have issued a formal plea for life for the Tree of Life. Together with our partners at Death Penalty Action, we fight against each execution in the USA, where we are pen pals with ALL in line for state-murder here – both the innocent and the guilty. We also advocate vociferously against the increasing calls for executions in Israel.

Our opposition to state murder is grounded in the fact that, like one of our co-founders , many of us at L’chaim are direct descendants of Holocaust survivors, such as Elie Wiesel, who famously said of capital punishment: “Death is not the answer.”  We also follow in the footsteps of renowned Jewish theologian Martin Buber, and other Jewish human rights luminaries who opposed the execution of the Nazi mass murderer Adolf Eichmann. We are keenly aware that the USA continues to carry  on the Nazi legacy that is lethal injection, and to erect more and more gas chambers, including those that use Zyklon B. Against all these developments, we chant “NEVER AGAIN to state-sponsored murder!” 

Our Jewish tradition teaches us the following: “Whoever destroys a life, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5) If the press claims to be a guardian for the values we uphold most dearly, and if indeed the human right to life is foremost among those values – as it very well should be – then the planned, state-sponsored killing of any defenseless human being should be among the top stories featured in any respected international news outlet. As Elie Wiesel said: “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.” We cannot afford to become complacent when it comes to this man-made Angel of Death, lest it come for us all. 

L’chaim – to Life!

Cantor Michael J. Zoosman, MSM

Board Certified Chaplain –  Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains

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

Advisory Committee Member, Death Penalty Action

About the Author
Cantor Michael Zoosman is a Board Certified Chaplain with the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care (CASC) and received his cantorial ordination 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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