Gantz Refuses Netanyahu's Call for Televised Debate: 'It's One Big Spin'

Netanyahu slams chief rival and Kahol Lavan leader in response: 'If he's too scared to debate me, how will he handle the challenges facing Israel?'

People walk on a bridge under an election campaign billboard in Ramat Gan, Israel, Feb. 18, 2020.
Oded Balilty

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's main rival and the leader of the Kahol Lavan party Benny Gantz refused the premier's call for a televised debate before Israel's March 2 election.

"This whole event is one big media spin," Gantz said at a press conference Wednesday. "I don’t work for this spin, and I don't work for him."

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On Tuesday evening, Netanyahu called on Gantz "to hold a televised debate without teleprompters, to say the real things." The prime minister even suggested holding several debates, "one on security, one on diplomacy and one on the economy."

A Kahol Lavan source accused Netanyahu after he issued the invitation for a debate of trying to detract public attention from his offical corruption trial, which is set to begin on March 17.

 "Netanyahu has refused a debate for ten years, and now he's reminded, on the evening that he takes flack for a trial date?" the source charged.

After Gantz's refusal Wednesday, Netanyahu tweeted that his rival "is afraid of a debate, and he knows why." Netanyahu asked: "If Gantz is scared to debate the prime minister, how is he going to handle the great challenges facing Israel?" 

Asked last week about a debate with Netanyahu, Gantz told Channel 12 News that he was "ready for any debate, but I think the most serious debate Netanyahu faces is with the prosecution witnesses in his trial." 

Netanyahu is only interested "in forming a coalition that will allow him to pass a law forbidding putting a prime minister on trial," the former army chief said, adding that the prime minister "has enslaved an entire country in order to evade justice, and we will not allow him [to do so]."

He added that parties that wish to join his government would have to commit not to push for such legislation. "In the State of Israel, no politician or public figure will be above the law," he said. 

During the 1996 election, Netanyahu debated then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres, and was deemed the winner. He went on to win the election. In the election that followed in 1999, Netanyahu debated then-Center Party Chairman Yitzhak Mordechai, while Barak, the eventual election winner, did not participate. In 2015, Netanyahu appeared alongside his election rival Isaac Herzog on what was then Channel 2, but Herzog was the only one in the studio, while Netanyahu appeared live from his home on a video feed.