Israel Election Updates / Israeli Political Leaders Face Off in TV Debate

18 days to go: Zehava Galon (Meretz) and Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) say there’s a chance they’ll sit in the same government, given similar socioeconomic outlooks; Sara Netanyahu: My husband is hero of free world; Zionist Union shifts ire from Netanyahu to Lapid.

Channel 2

Latest political summary: The High Court of Justice has decided to allow Yisrael Beiteinu to distribute copies of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Read full story here

Meanwhile, Israeli media are devoting more coverage to corruption during the current election campaign than they did during the 2013 campaign, a study done by Ifat Media Analysis for TheMarker shows. Read full story here

For Wednesday's election updates, click here

Latest opinion and analysis: Are we blowing Netanyahu's excesses out of proportion? (Asher Schechter) | Why the coming election won't bring change to Israel's economy (Guy Rolnik) | Israel’s new existential threat (Ari Shavit)

Latest updates:

9 P.M. Israeli political leaders face off in TV debate

A number of leaders of Israel's political parties are facing off in a Channel 2 debate – though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni are not participating. In attendance are Avigidor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu), Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu), Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi), Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), Zehava Galon (Meretz), Ayman Odeh (Joint List), Arye Dery (Shas) and Eli Yishai (Yahad).

Highlights:

Ayman Odeh says Arabs are 20% of Israel’s population, to which Lieberman mumbles, “For now, for now.” 

Lieberman: Odeh represents a fifth column, a representative of terror organizations in the Knesset.

Bennett: We are all Jews; Odeh: We are all humans.

Naftali Bennett: A Palestinian state will crush the Israel economy.

Zehava Galon: Bennett is lying to the Israeli public, pursuing messianic policy.

Avigdor Lieberman: There's no difference between Islamists, Communists and Nasserites.

Arye Dery: Yair Lapid continues to inflame hatred of the ultra-Orthodox.

Bennett says increased aliyah will solve Palestinian demographic issue, whereas Lieberman says only partition will.

Leftist Galon and center-rightist Kahlon say there’s a chance they’ll sit in the same government given their similar socioeconomic outlook. 

Bennett says it’s still possible to renew alliance with Yesh Atid; Yair Lapid responds by saying that the money funneled into settlements is needed to lower high cost of living in Israel proper. 

5:30 P.M. Sara Netanyahu: My husband is hero of free world

The wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sara Netanyahu, has come out strongly against media criticism of both herself and her husband, claiming that the couple is being targeted by the owner of Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth daily newspaper.  

Of her husband, Netanyahu said that "he’s a hero not only of the Jewish people, but of people everywhere who feel themselves part of the free world, people who oppose the horrors that Islamic State is inflicting and Iran’s nuclear plans. I see my relationship with him as a great responsibility," Sara Netanyahu told Jerusalem Post contributor Noami Ragen.

In reponse to allegations that she exercises undue influence over her husband's decisions as prime minister, Netanyahu said that "this elitist, chauvinistic attitude that blames the woman, says everything must be the woman’s fault. It’s a very sexist attitude – a deliberate attempt to degrade the wife of the prime minister in her natural role as his partner and helpmate.” (Haaretz)

12:00 P.M. Habayit Hayehudi: ‘We’ve never had a leadership so attentive to the rabbis’

In response to the growing strength of Eli Yishai’s Yahad party in the National Religious sector, Habayit Hayehudi has started distributing a pamphlet written by four rabbis that says: “There has never been a leadership of a national religious party that has been so attentive to the rabbis.”

Rabbi Haim Druckman wrote in the introduction to the brochure that the national religious public has never had a leadership who listened so well to the rabbis. The rabbis who wrote the answers to a number of questions in the pamphlet are Yehezkel Kohfeld, Ze’ev Karov, Eli Kaplan and Shahar Kihan. (Chaim Levinson) Read full story here

10:03 A.M. Likud officials fear embarrassing Sara Netanyahu tape may leak to press before election

Likud leaders fear that a recording of an embarrassing conversation including the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, will leak to the media ahead of the elections.

In the conversation Sara Netanyahu is heard scolding Monique Ben Melech, wife of former Sderot mayor, Eli Moyal, for Moyal’s criticism of the prime minister’s performance during the war in Gaza.

Moyal confirmed the recording exists Wednesday and said he was in favor of releasing it, but it was up to his wife to decide what to do with it. (Jonathan Lis) Read full story here

8:15 A.M. Zionist Union shifts ire from Netanyahu to Lapid, hoping to attract centrist voters

The Zionist Union on Wednesday launched a frontal attack on Yesh Atid and its chairman, Yair Lapid, for the first time, in an effort to attract enough of the party’s supporters to guarantee the joint slate headed by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni the largest number of votes in the March 17 election.

The publication of the state comptroller’s report on housing prices gave Zionist Union an opportunity to alter its campaign strategy, from focusing on attacks on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud, to going after the former finance minister, who controls precious mandates in the center bloc. Read full story here