Netanyahu Says He's Prepared for Televised Debate With Chief Rival Gantz

The prime minister has not participated in a direct debate with an opponent for 10 years

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to supporters at a Likud rally in Rishon Letzion, February 18, 2020.
Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that he is willing to participate in a televised debate ahead of the March 2 election.

Netanyahu has not participated in a direct debate with an election opponent since 1999, when he lost the premiership to Ehud Barak.

“I am willing to come here or another place,” Netanyahu told Channel 20. Addressing his rival, Kahol Lavan’s Benny Gantz, he said, “Let’s choose someone [a moderator], or you can bring someone … Let’s do a few televised debates, one on the security side of things, on the diplomatic side, and on the economic side.”

Netanyahu participated in debates in 1996 against Labor Chairman and Prime Minister Shimon Peres, and was deemed the victor ahead of his election win. In the following election in 1999, he debated 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.

Netanyahu’s statement came after Gantz sat down with five interviewers in quick succession.

In response to the prime minister’s offer to participate in a debate, a Kahol Lavan source said: “For 10 years Bibi [Netanyahu] has avoided all debates. Suddenly, he wakes up on the day that his court date is assigned. We don’t have to cooperate with every lame trick of his. Why doesn’t he go debate the prosecutor?”

Asked last week by Channel 12 about his willingness to debate Netnayahu on television, Gantz said, “I am ready for any debate, I just think that the next big debate Netanyahu will have is with the prosecution’s witness in his trial.”

The prime minister stands accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three corruption cases. His trial is set to begin on March 17, two weeks after the election and a day after the new Knesset is supposed to be sworn in. Netanyahu may request that his arraignment be postponed.