Lapid Challenges Netanyahu to Debate Three Days Before Israel Election

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Opposition leader Yair Lapid, this week
Opposition leader Yair Lapid, this weekCredit: Hadas Parush
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid challenged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a debate on Saturday, three days before Israel's election on Tuesday.

In his campaign speeches and press interviews, Netanyahu has singled out Lapid as his adversary for the premiership, highlighting his own diplomatic achievements and decades of experience against Lapid's. However,  the Yesh Atid chairman himself has thus far avoided declaring that he seeks the position.

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In a post published on his Facebook page on Saturday, Lapid wrote that the studio and cameras are ready, and that the “public deserves to know kind of frightening government Netanyahu is trying to form here. A shady, racist, extortionist, and chauvinistic government that will scare off an entire generation and bury Israel’s democracy.” 

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“For many months you put me on billboards, gave speeches about me, made videos against me. Let’s see whether you meant it. Let’s see whether you really want a debate, or whether you’re just running away,” Lapid added. “You said I was your opponent, opponents are to be faced. You asked ‘Where’s Lapid?' Here I am. Come face me."

During an interview with Channel 12 News' Meet the Press, Netanyahu said he would debate Lapid if the Yesh Atid chairman announced that he was running for prime minister. 

At a press conference, Lapid told reporters that he "heard all of Netanyahu's excuses tonight for why he ran away from the debate I offered him. It's all excuses. He's scared." He added, "For three months, he put me on billboards, made videos asking 'Where's Lapid?', talked about me incessantly, and now that I've offered him to come debate, he panicked and disappeared. It's still not too late. The offer still stands. Come debate."   

On Tuesday, Lapid called on supporters of the left-wing Meretz party to vote for it to ensure it passes the electoral threshold in the March 23 vote, but stressed that Yesh Atid should be Israel's next ruling party.

This came after Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz and Labor party member Nachman Shai both said that their parties would recommend Lapid to President Reuven Rivlin as the person to form Israel's next ruling coalition.

Meanwhile, New Hope Chairman Gideon Sa'ar, during an interview on Channel 12 news on Saturday night, called on Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett to publicly declare that he will not join a coalition with Likud. 

Sa'ar called on Bennett to announce that he will be "joining the coalition of change" because "together we can be a strong core that can form an alternative coalition to Netanyahu ... who is very lose to bringing 61" Knesset seats.

The New Hope Chairman also said in unequivocal terms that he would not join any coalition of which the Joint List is a part.

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