Netanyahu Won't Decide on Election Debate Until He Returns From Controversial Trip to D.C.

Israel's Channel 2, 10 say they'll hold debate even without Netanyahu; Zionist Union's Herzog among major leaders who say they will take part.

Nati Tucker
Jonathan Lis
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Who's scared of a debate?Credit: Amos Biderman
Nati Tucker
Jonathan Lis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will consider participating in an election debate only once he returns from Washington after delivering a speech on Iran to the U.S. Congress on March 3, a Likud source said Wednesday.

“All options are open,” said an official at Netanyahu’s campaign headquarters. “We have not refused the debate.”

Netanyahu’s controversial acceptance of a Republican invitation to speak before Congress, despite the Obama administration’s opposition, has stoked renewed tensions between Israel and Washington.

Israel’s Channel 2 and Channel 10 will hold election debates among party leaders even if Netanyahu does not attend, their news departments announced this week.

They have not provided details about who the moderators might be or what format the debates would take.

“A moment before Israel’s citizens go to the polls to decide the country’s future, we believe that as customary in the large democracies in the world, a true and profound public debate should be held in which the major subjects that concern Israel’s citizens are discussed,” Channel 2 News said in its invitation to party leaders to participate in a televised debate.

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog has said he would participate in a debate on Channel 2, as have Yesh Atid chairman Yesh Atid, Kulanu’s Moshe Kahlon, Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman, Habayit Hayehudi’s Naftali Bennett, Meretz’s Zehava Galon and Yahad’s Eli Yishai.

Most party leaders, excluding Netanyahu, also told Channel 10 they would take part in an election debate.

“Channel 10 News feels that in a democratic society, it is of the utmost importance to hold a debate among the party leaders on the eve of the elections in Israel,” the station said. “The debate will give Israel’s citizens a chance to receive more comprehensive answers about the major issues that Israel’s society and citizens are dealing with, and these answers will influence their decision at the polls.”

MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) called on the television stations to hold the debate even without Netanyahu, and leave an empty chair to symbolize his absence.

Although Zionist Union has agreed to take part, it is not entirely clear if Herzog would participate in a debate if Netanyahu did not.