The leaders of eight parties took part in a televised debate aired Thursday evening. Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog — the two main rivals for the prime ministership — chose not to participate. United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman also stayed away.

Also Thursday, Israel and Jordan signed a historic water treaty agreeing to build a desalination plant near Akaba and join forces on replenishing the Dead Sea.

Earlier, Zionist Union leader Herzog accused Prime Minister Netanyahu of spending billions in isolated settlements over the Green Line when that money could have helped solve the housing crisis, as revealed by the State Comptroller’s special report published on Wednesday.

The Times of Israel blogged events as they unfolded.

‘NIS 10b. went to settlements instead of housing,’ Herzog charges

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog accuses Netanyahu of investing money in settlements that could have helped solve the housing crisis, as revealed by the State Comptroller’s special report published on Wednesday.

“If ten billion shekels would have been invested in housing, the comptroller’s report would look different,” Herzog writes on Facebook.

“Fearmongering is the only weapon left in his arsenal, but his manipulations no longer convince anyone. The public has had enough of a prime minister who serves this dish of fear and anxiety every day.”

Sara Netanyahu strikes back

Sara Netanyahu, who’s gotten terrible press lately, accuses the media of being willing to pay sources and “put them on a pedestal” in return for negative stories about her.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara celebrate a birthday at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on October 21, 2012. (Photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara celebrate a birthday at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on October 21, 2012. (Photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

“I have been under the gaze of the media since 1996. We were a young couple on the wrong side of the political spectrum. We look okay, we are educated, with small cute children. One journalist once told me, ‘if you were from the left side of politics, you, exactly as you are, would be our queen.’”

Netanyahu also rejected accusations that she was interfering with the work of her husband. “I do not sit in on government meetings. Honestly, there are wives and husbands of MKs who are way more involved than me in their partners’ work. He does not ask for my advice on government, security or economics, all subjects I know nothing about.”

IS executioner ‘Jihadi John’ named by media

“Jihadi John,” the masked Islamic State man apparently responsible for the beheading of Western hostages, is named as former London resident Mohammed Emwazi by The Washington Post and the BBC.

Britain’s Metropolitan Police would not confirm the report, which identified the suspect as Kuwaiti-born Emwazi, who grew up in west London.

“We are not going to confirm the identity of anyone at this stage or give an update on the progress of this live counter-terrorism investigation,” says Richard Walton from the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command.


Leading rabbis endorse far-right Yachad party

An open letter published in Besheva, a newspaper targeted mostly at national religious readers, and signed by 19 leading Zionist-religious rabbis endorses the Yachad party headed by Eli Yishai.

If Yachad, polling at around four Knesset seats, passes the electoral threshold and enters the Knesset, far-right activist Baruch Marzel will be an MK. Marzel was disqualified by the Central Election Committee for his association with the Kach movement, which was outlawed, but the High Court of Justice overruled the decision and allowed him to run for office.

UN envoy expected in Syria on Friday

UN Syria peace envoy Staffan de Mistura will arrive in Damascus on Friday for talks on a bid to freeze fighting in Aleppo, the Al-Watan newspaper reports.

“De Mistura will discuss his proposal with the Syrian ministry of foreign affairs,” Al-Watan, which is close to the government, said citing “well-informed sources.”

The newspaper says de Mistura’s deputy Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy arrived in Syria on Wednesday to prepare for the envoy’s visit.

The trip will be De Mistura’s first since he announced that Damascus was willing to halt fire on Aleppo for a six-week period.


Cost of gas to rise 6.25%

The price of gasoline will rise by a whopping 38 agorot (c. 10 cents) per liter on March 1, that is from midnight on Saturday.

The new price will be NIS 6.46 ($1.64) per liter, self-service, marking a 6.25% rise.

The Energy Ministry attributed the hike to a rise in the cost of oil.

Rivlin expresses shock at Greek church arson

President Reuven Rivlin calls Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem to express his sadness and shock at the arson and graffiti attack on a building within the Greek Orthodox compound on Mount Zion.

“It is inconceivable that an act like this could happen in a house of prayer; this is a heinous crime, there must be an investigation and those responsible must be brought to justice. Such criminals not only threaten to set fire to places of worship holy to all of us, but ignite the regional powder keg upon which we all sit,” Rivlin says.

“The protection and conservation of the holy sites, both those holy for us and those holy for others, is our obligation as a state and as a society, and we cannot allow such attacks to sabotage the common fabric of our lives here. We all have a responsibility to put an end to these terrible acts,” he continues.

UTJ MK says rift may cost ‘thousands of votes’

MK Menahem Eliezer Moses (United Torah Judaism) suspects the rift between Shas and Yachad may cause the ultra-Orthodox community to lose thousands of votes.

Ultra-Orthodox MKs Menachem Eliezer Moses (L) and Yaacov Asher attend a meeting regarding government actions to encourage ultra-Orthodox Jewish integration in the Israeli job market, August 2013. (photo credit: Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox MKs Menachem Eliezer Moses (L) and Yaacov Asher attend a meeting regarding government actions to encourage ultra-Orthodox Jewish integration in the Israeli job market, August 2013. (photo credit: Flash90)

Speaking on Kol Berama radio, Moses says that “you have this tape being revealed here, and another tape being revealed there… things are changing and they’re not unequivocal. You can’t know what rabbit they will pull out of a hat.”

Moses also says UTJ may lose many votes because of its Jerusalem branch – a radical subsection of the party’s electorate whose members recently held demonstrations against drafting ultra-Orthodox young men to the IDF. Many less extremist ultra-Orthodox distanced themselves from the Jerusalem branch following the demonstrations.

Jihadi John ‘in charge of IT security at IS’

“Jihadi John,” or, as he is referred to by Islamic State operatives in Syria, Abu Abdullah al-Britani, has assumed a leading role in the terror organization’s foreign jihadi corps, a significant part of the group’s fighting force, the UK’s Guardian reports.

Steven Sotloff next to his Islamic State captor, Jihadi John, in a video released Tuesday, September 2, 2014. (Screen capture: SITE/Twitter)

Steven Sotloff next to his Islamic State captor, Jihadi John, in a video released Tuesday, September 2, 2014. (Screen capture: SITE/Twitter)

The man, named by media outlets as Mohammed Emwazi, also played a lead role in negotiations to free European hostages captured by Islamic State in 2012-13.

It is also widely believed that Emwazi plays a leading role in the group’s IT security, which has been able to disguise the origins of all communications between leaders in Raqqa and Western governments or envoys handling hostage negotiations, the paper reports.

It is believed that Emwazi was injured during the US-led air campaign.

Shin Bet nabs 2 West Bank terror cells

The Shin Bet announces that it arrested members of two terror cells who carried out attacks against Israeli cars and an IDF outpost over the past two months.

A gun and cartridges of ammunition that were used in shooting attacks by a West Bank terror cell apprehended by the Shin Bet. (Photo credit: Shin Bet Security Service)

A gun and cartridges of ammunition that were used in shooting attacks by a West Bank terror cell apprehended by the Shin Bet. (Photo credit: Shin Bet Security Service)

One cell, whose members are activists of the “Popular Front,” carried out shooting attacks against vehicles on a road in the West Bank and against an IDF post in Nabi Salah (also in the West Bank). The cell was also allegedly responsible for Molotov cocktail and pipe bomb attacks. During interrogation, the statement from Shin Bet reads, the cell members turned in four rifles as well as rounds of ammunition.

They admitted to having made plans for further attacks.

The second cell, whose members are residents of Kfar Bnai Na’im, carried out several shooting attacks in November 2014 against Israeli cars traveling on Route 60 near Kiryat Arba.

Israel, Jordan sign ‘historic’ Red-Dead pact

Israel and Jordan sign the “Red-Dead” agreement to jointly build a desalination plant north of the Jordanian tourist resort of Akaba. Water with high quantities of salts left over from the desalination process will be moved to the Dead Sea to help replenish the dwindling natural resource.

Energy Minister Silvan Shalom was in Jordan for the official ceremony of signing the treaty. Standing alongside his Jordanian counterpart and representatives of the World Bank, he said, “This is a historic agreement. Today we realize the vision of Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl, the visionary of the state, who already at the end of the 19th century understood the need to revive the Dead Sea. This is the most important and significant agreement since the peace treaty was signed with Jordan.”

Large oil spill discovered in Kishon basin

A large fuel spill, almost half a dunam (.12 acre) in size, was found in the basin of the Kishon River. Inspectors from the Kishon Stream Authority went to the location of the spill to take samples, as well as to pump out the oil to stop it spreading.

The inspectors believe the oil spilled from one of the ships that were anchored at Kishon port. A representative of the Environment Protection Ministry arrived on the scene to launch an investigation.

Zionist rabbis support PM’s Congress speech

Dozens of rabbis from the Zionist-religious movement published an open letter in support of Netanyahu for going to speak at Congress despite the opposition both from the US administration and inside Israel.

Among the signatories to the letter are leading rabbis Haim Druckman, Shlomo Aviner and Shmuel Eliyahu, Israel Radio reports.

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, meanwhile, says Netanyahu’s speech is a “serious strategic misstep” that will harm the security of Israel’s citizens.

Herzog says Netanyahu’s refusal to privately meet with senior Democratic senators was proof that his intention to address Congress was “a dangerous game in American politics and nothing else.” The security of Israelis can also be guaranteed in private talks with the Americans, the Zionist Union’s prime ministerial hopeful says at a press conference in Tel Aviv.

Argentina’s Kirchner absolved of Iran ‘cover-up’

An Argentinean court exonerates President Cristina Kirchner of charges that she may have covered up Iran’s involvement in a terror attack against a Jewish community building in Buenos Aires in 1994, in which 85 people were killed and hundreds wounded.

Kirchner was cleared of the charges brought forth by investigator Alberto Nisman, who dedicated many years to the case and was found dead in his home the day before he was expected to address the Argentinean Congress to present his findings.

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner in Buenos Aires, on January 30, 2015. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO / ALEJANDRO PAGNI)

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner in Buenos Aires, on January 30, 2015. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO / ALEJANDRO PAGNI)

It is not clear whether Nisman killed himself or committed suicide (if you want to get a glimpse of this publication’s view, read this). Kirchner, who seems on the face of it to have a reason to want Nisman out of the way, took to Facebook a few weeks after his death and says she believes he was killed by intelligence agents who used Nisman to make allegations against her. Kirchner at the time claimed that Nisman was “disposed of” once the master spies had no use for him.

Also on Thursday, Argentina’s congress passed a law creating a new intelligence service. By a vote of 131 to 71, the Chamber of Deputies passed the bill dissolving the Intelligence Secretariat and replacing it with a body called the Federal Intelligence Agency.

— AFP contributed

Palestinian tries to stab soldier in Gush Etziyon

A Palestinian man tried to stab a soldier near the Gush Etziyon junction but was overpowered by troops stationed nearby.

The soldier was unharmed. The Palestinian was detained and taken for questioning.

‘Jews facing harassment in more countries’

The number of countries where Jews face harassment is growing, despite a downturn in hostile acts involving all religions worldwide, according to a report published in Washington.

The Pew Research Center says harassment of Jews was reported in 77 out of 198 countries in 2013 — the highest number in seven years.

“Jews are much more likely to be harassed by individuals or groups in society than by governments,” it said in a 86-page report.

“In Europe, for example, Jews were harassed by individuals or social groups in 34 of the region’s 45 countries,” it added.


At least 18 dead in Nigeria suicide attack

A suicide bomber blew himself up at a crowded bus station in Biu, northeast Nigeria, on Thursday, while a second bomber was shot dead before he could detonate his explosives, witnesses told AFP.

Babagana Kyari, a civilian vigilante, said “at least 18 people, including three women, died… and several others were injured” although there was no immediate corroboration of that death toll.

The attack happened after two men arrived the Tashar Gandu motor park on the edge of the town in Borno state, where one detonated his explosives among passengers and vendors, onlookers said.

The suicide bombing is the second this week, after 34 people were killed in a blast at a bus station in the city of Kano, on Tuesday. The death toll was revised upwards from the initial estimate of 10.


Road closures during Tel Aviv Marathon tomorrow

The Tel Aviv marathon on Friday is expected to be attended by 35,000 runners and some 10,000 who will come to cheer and watch.

From 4 a.m., the Glilot junction, Unitzman 2040, Levi Eshkole and Shai Agnon avenues will be closed. Traveling by car from Namir Road and Begin Road to the streets Bnei Efraim, Rokach Avenue, Pinkas, Arlozorov, Kaplan, Hashmonaim, Harakevet and Kikar Hamoshavot will also not be possible until the marathon ends.

The Beach Road and Herbert Samuel and and Koifman Road will also be closed.

More info can be found here.

No charges over Dane’s ‘Je suis’ gunman comment

A Danish man whose Facebook comments appeared to back the gunman behind the deadly Copenhagen attacks will not face charges of condoning terrorism, a prosecutor says.

The unidentified man had posted comments including “Je suis Omar” and “We are all Omar” on his Facebook page, referring to Omar El-Hussein, who killed two people in the twin shootings on February 14 and 15.

“Rest in peace our dear brother Omar Abdel El-Hussein,” he wrote in a caption to a picture of El-Hussein, which included in Arabic the phrase “May Allah have mercy on you”.

Prosecutor Jan Reckendorff says the 27-year-old “has explained that the Facebook announcement in no way was meant as support for the presumed perpetrator” and that he denounced the attacks.

The prosecution also takes into account the fact that the man deleted the posts after realizing they were “creating a stir,” Reckendorff says in a statement.


Tim Cook inaugurates Apple offices in Israel

The current president of Apple computers Tim Cook arrived in Israel to inaugurate the company’s offices. Apple holds Israel in very high regard, Cook said, not just as a close ally of the US but as a global trade capital.

Cook met with President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem yesterday. Rivlin told Cook that Apple’s contribution to mankind was “unprecedented.”

He visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and is expected to meet during his time in Israel also with former president and known technology buff Shimon Peres.

Channel 2 debate starts: FM urges death penalty for terrorists

Channel 2’s pre-election debate gets under way, with eight party leaders in the studio.

The TV marathon, which Netanyahu, Herzog and UTJ’s Yaakov Litzman are boycotting, begins with an opening minute of statements from each of the eight participants.

First to speak, Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Liberman calls for death penalty for terrorists and says Israel should “return to 1967 heroism.”

Shas leader slams TA for not giving single prize to Sephardi woman

Kulanu’s Moshe Kahlon is next to speak. He looks a little nervous, but personable. Focuses on his pledge to focus on socioeconomic issues.

Ex-TV presenter Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) is far more polished. Says he’s going to return the country to its people.

Naftali Bennett mainly talks up his achievements in the past Knesset – mentioning Operation Protective Edge and the Nesher conglomerate. He promises the public to be “your servant.”

Shas leader Aryeh Deri, earnest and sad, slams Tel Aviv Municipality, in giving 14 prizes to women, not awarding one of them to a Sephardi woman. Says he’ll take care of the poor, while rivals champion the middle classes.

Eli Yishai pulls Netanyahu stunt with cartoon bomb

Yachad’s Eli Yishai, in a cute touch, using a version of the drawing of a bomb Netanyahu used at the UN to show that the rifts in Israeli society are reaching incendiary levels.

Moderator Yonit Levy is not impressed with the gimmick. “Not original,” she notes.

Joint Arab List head Ayman Odeh offers hope, the prospect of peace, a different kind of democracy, but says the Arab community can’t do it alone.

‘Meretz only party that will not join Netanyahu’

And finally in this opening round, Zahava Galon says past speakers were cowards. Meretz is the only party that commits not to join Netanyahu, Galon says. She warns that if there is no Palestinian state, Israel risks becoming an apartheid nation. She vows to battle tycoons.

Now the TV “debate” begins in earnest, with a series of one-on-one confrontations.

Moshe Kahlon slams Yesh Atid on housing

In the first face-to-face, Lapid mentions close to 100,000 apartments approved during his term as finance minister. Kahlon slams Lapid, says in reality, less than 8,000 “actual keys” to new houses were delivered to new tenants.

Kahlon is unusually aggressive. Lapid looks oddly out of form. The usually campaign-savvy Lapid looks almost puzzled by Kahlon’s onslaught and suggests that “instead of fighting each other, let’s fight the issues facing the middle class.”

Deri claims to be true torchbearer of Ovadia Yosef

Aryeh Deri tries to shame Yachad leader Eli Yishai by saying Yishai would never have established his splinter group if spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef were still alive.

Yishai and Deri both try to specualte what Yosef would have wanted and each claims he holds the truth.

Bennett says world scorns country that cuts its capital in half

Naftali Bennett and Zahava Galon face off.

Bennett says he won’t relinquish any land to the Arabs.

Galon says he’s a fear-mongerer.

“Naftali wants annexation… hopes that 5 million Palestinians will simply disappear,” says Galon, adding “apartheid, binational state – this is your offer.”

“A Palestinian state,” Bennett counters, “will make mincemeat of the state of Israel.” He mentions a historic precedent (in his view) of the second intifada. “Who do you want to give the Golan to? Nasrallah or IS?” he asks, saying the Middle East today is “a new Middle East” filled with terrorist organizations.

“The world scorns a country willing to cut its capital in half,” he concludes.

Galon says Israel’s only chance in the new Middle East is to ally with moderate Arab states against the extremists.

Deri, sitting between them, looks like he’s having less fun than when he debated Yishai.

Liberman talks of Arab threat to Israel from within; Odeh slams his corrupt party

Liberman debates Odeh.

The foreign minister says “they want to destroy Israel from within”; it’s not clear if he means all Israeli Arabs or just their political leaders.

Odeh says that “I’m talikng about democracy, living together… and I feel like someone fell from the skies on us, straight from the 1930s.”

“We are sons of this place, we fight for everyone, even Liberman’s voters,” Odeh says.

“We need to take all civilians, Palestinian and Jewish, from the circle of violence,” he continues. “We do not want another people to conquer the state of Israel, we want a state alongside it.”

He says Arabs are 20% of the state. For now, chimes in Liberman.

Liberman calls Odeh a “fifth column, a representative of terror organizations in the Knesset.”

Odeh replies that Liberman is trying to evade “the corruption in his party… Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel,” he quotes.

Odeh avoids answering a question on whether he will recommend Herzog to President Reuven Rivlin for the role of prime minister.

He also repeatedly avoids answering a question on whether he considers the Hamas killers of three Jewish teens last summer to be terrorists.

Deri says Lapid is motivated by hatred

Aryeh Deri is “very sorry” that Yesh Atid’s Lapid “continues” to inflame hatred of ultra-Orthodox. He says he’ll never be able to sit with Lapid in government unless Lapid changes.

Lapid rejects the claim of “hatred.”

“Haredi kids should join the army and Haredi adults should work like the rest of us,” says Lapid.

Shas, Deri counters, represents many Israelis who served in the IDF. He also says Lapid continues mentioning Deri’s conviction of bribery because of hatred and “would not dare speak like this if my name was Aryeh Olmert.” Deri sounds close to tears at one point but recovers.

A patronizing Lapid offers Deri “to help rehabilitate you.”

Debate moves into less formal, more bitter stage

Avigdor Liberman says the current corruption investigation in which his party is embroiled is “a targeted political strike.” He continually mentions the fact that the court exonerated him in his various corruption probes.

Moshe Kahlon, empathetic, says “a man’s dignity” must be respected.

The debate has now moved into a less rigid framework, with Yonit Levy and political reporter Amit Segal lobbing questions.

Segal redirects the debate to Deri and Lapid and asks whether they will sit in the same government. Both refuse to rule it out unequivocally; it is evident that the animosity between them is great, and at least Deri, who seems to have a very emotional streak, looks personally hurt by Lapid.


Liberman and Bennett battle

Avigdor Liberman says he is “happy all the left in Israel is becoming one nature reserve we can soon fit into a single phone booth.”

He says he won’t sit in a coalition with Galon.

She calls him “a racist,” and says he has no place in a center-left coalition anyway.

In the Middle East, he lectures her, “the weak get trampled.”

Attacking Liberman from the right in one of the nastiest sections of the debate so far, Naftali Bennett paints him as weak for agreeing to a 2-state solution. He notes that two of Liberman’s ministers voted to release Palestinian terrorists.

“The difference between us,” Liberman fires back, “is that you want as many Palestinians as you can [inside Israel] and I want as few as I can.”

Liberman says the Egypt and Jordan peace treaties were good for Israel.

Bennett says the solution is more immigration. Liberman: We are the only party who dealt extensively with aliyah.

Afterwards, Kulanu’s Moshe Kahlon agrees to be “very close to [Zahava] Galon” on social issues. He won’t say that he refuses to sit with her in the same government. She, in turn, says “we can certainly find common ground.”

Lapid and Bennett spar over money for settlements

Naftali Bennett says Yair Lapid “is simply lying” when he says Jewish Home transferred lots of money to small settlements.

Lapid says transferring money to small, “very extremist” outposts, is counterproductive and “ends up hurting Ma’ale Adumim” and other settlement blocs, which Lapid believes Israel should keep in any future peace deal.

The Lapid-Bennett face-off is extremely nasty — underlining the extent to which these two party leaders, who used to constantly refer to each other as brothers, have fallen out.

Where did the partnership go wrong, host Yonit Levy asks. “They became extreme,” says Lapid of Bennett’s Jewish Home.

“I won’t let you stir up” the public against the settlers, Bennett insists.

Aryeh Deri says “our party never disgraced the symbols of the state of Israel, but that the tefillin, the tallit, the belief in one God” are all things “leaders some of these parties” are disgracing.

He is answering a question about a prominent Shas rabbi who said last week that the national anthem “is a stupid song.”

Channel 2 takes an advertising break. We think there’s maybe 40 more minutes of this to go.

Bennett: I need a lot more political power

And we’re back. And the debate moves to a phase where the party leaders ask each other questions directly.

Moshe Kahlon asks Naftali Bennett why Yair Lapid is “off limits.” Bennett lists his goals and says he needs “a lot of political power” to attain these goals — including reviving the economy and advancing his diplomatic policies.

Bennett asks Kahlon whether he is willing to give up territory, or whether he’s a “real Likudnik” — a quote he attributes to Kahlon.

Kahlon accuses Bennett of putting words in his mouth. “There’s a limit to how inaccurate you can get,” he protests to Yonit Levy, the moderator. “I am a man of the national camp, but I also believe we need an arrangement [i.e. peace deal]. At the moment, there is no partner, so we concentrate on the cost of housing.”

Kahlon comes over as very sweet, but not terribly firm. Bennett, who is increasingly dominating this event, is emerging as well-prepared, firm, prepared to out-shout everybody else, and not terribly sweet.

Galon slams Bennett’s incitement; Bennett: Don’t blame me for Rabin murder

Aryeh Deri pulls the ethnic card with Naftali Bennett, protesting that Jewish Home briefly recruited soccer star Eli Ohana because he was Sephardi and “intelligent” — to quote Jewish Home’s Ayelet Shaked.

“It’s not even worth responding to, I’m disappointed by the question,” Bennett says. “Don’t play the ethnic card; we’re all Jews.”

Zahava Galon to Bennett: “How come you and your party think you’re some divine gift to the people? You treat gays and lesbians as subhuman, you believe Arabs are second class citizens, you allow yourselves to incite against the left. Where does this come from? You’re an extreme right wing party.”

Bennett: “For 20 years the left took down Netanyahu’s head by calling him guilty for Rabin’s murder. I am not of this generation, I love this country. Maybe you forgot the Torah and that we were here for 3,000 years. I want every Israeli child to know who was Abraham.”

Bennett cites his army service and tells Galon “I defended you in your home.”

“Don’t dare accuse me of the Rabin assassination,” he repeats. “I’m proud of who I am.”

Aiman Odeh to Bennett: “You say we are all Jews – I say we are all human.”

Then Odeh turns to Deri: “You claim to represent ‘the transparent ones – I represent the ultra transparent, the unrecognized villages in the Negev, where a third of the children are poor.”

Lapid: Why aren’t Netanyahu and Herzog here tonight?

Eli Yishai asks Zahava Galon: “There was the expulsion from Gaza. This didn’t solve the economic crisis. Do you really believe in another disengagement in Judea and Samaria…?”

Galon: “The priorities should be changed. If we want to solve social issues, priorities necessitate a diplomatic move that will bring an end to ruling over another people.”

Lapid, in a rare reference to the two missing main party leaders, wonders what Netanyahu and Herzog “are doing tonight that could be more important than being here.”

Liberman to Odeh: Why are you here, not Ramallah or Gaza?

Avigdor Liberman to Aiman Odeh: “You condemned Arabs who perform national service. Why didn’t you condemn Israeli Arabs who joined Islamic State?”

Liberman asks Odeh, “Why are you here?” and says he should be in Ramallah or Gaza. “You define yourself as a Palestinian. Go to Abu Mazen.”

Yonit Levy interjects: “He’s an Israeli citizen.”

Liberman: “He defines himself as a Palestinian.”

Odeh: “I think we need a new angle on the whole thing. Instead of incitement, listening. Instead of being foes, being friends.”

He says his list will get 15 seats. “We’re part of the scene.”

Adds Odeh: “About IS – I see them as a fascist movement threatening everyone. We are not against volunteering, we are not against citizenship, but we certainly are against the Defense Ministry conditioning people’s rights on specific kinds of national service.”

Channel 2 takes the debate’s last advertising break. Now we’ll have individual final summations.

Debate ends with closing statements

The party leaders make their final statements.

Zahava Galon: “Israel needs a strong, significant left party that will stand against the racism, the incitement and the descent to fascism. It is a telling sign there is only one woman here tonight… We’ll work for a fairer society.”

Aryeh Deri: “I commit to lowering the VAT to 0 on basic goods, a 30 shekel hourly minimum wage, and that 7.5% of housing should be public housing.”

Naftali Bennett: “Brothers and sisters: I turn to you, especially those of army age. It is important that each and every one of you know our heritage… I want you to be proud to be Jewish and Israeli and Zionist…. I commit to never agreeing to give a centimeter of Israel’s land to the Arabs.”

Moshe Kahlon: “We heard many promises today. I commit that at the moment I reach the finance ministry we will fight the monopolies. It will take not much longer than a year. Those who know me know that when I fight for a cause I go all the way, as I did with the cellular phone monopoly. If you want me in the finance ministry vote Kulanu, because only with political power I will be able to get there.”

Liberman: “We will have no choice but to topple Hamas. we cannot have a war every 2 years. we must legislate the death penalty for terrorists. We must ensure a Jewish majority loyal to the state.”

Lapid: “We came to change and we have made some mistakes, but I am proud of our achievements. You need to be angry about the things these elections prevented.”

Yishai: “I have a dream that we will not differentiate between haredim and secular, black hat and knitted kipa, I have a dream that an old man will not need to choose between medicine and food.

Aiman Odeh: “We (Arabs) will not agree to be left aside. We are the largest list of the parties here. we are more than 20% of the population. We will pull our weight for peace, equality, democracy. This is not even a state of Jews, but a state of tycoons.” Odeh finishes in Arabic.

Yonit Levy thanks all the participants, laments the absence of Herzog and Netanyahu.

TV debate over; how many viewers will it sway?

Channel 2’s Amit Segal asserts that the importance of the debate was that it took place, and that Herzog and Netanyahu “paid a price for not being here.”

Our instant summation: Bennett was well-prepared and focused — ready to talk over all other participants, for better or worse. Galon was clear and potent too.

Liberman looked uncomfortable, and used too much of his time to repeat himself on the need to oust Hamas and impose the death penalty for terrorists.

Lapid was composed but not particularly persuasive, Kahlom sweet and not particularly persuasive. Yishai did little to distinguish his party from Deri on the one hand, Bennett on the other.

Deri was earnest, emotional, passionate as ever.

And Aiman Ouda was perhaps the most interesting, in that his appearance marked a relatively rare instance of an Israeli Arab politician enjoying plenty of prime time to make his case to the Israeli public.

Good night from Jerusalem!

PM says he is on ‘historic’ mission

Before boarding his plane to Washington, Netanyahu makes the following remarks:

“A few days before the Fast of Esther [Wednesday], I am leaving for Washington on a fateful, even historic, mission. I feel that I am the emissary of all Israelis, even those who disagree with me, of the entire Jewish People. I am deeply and genuinely concerned for the security of all Israelis, for the fate of the nation, and for the fate of our people and I will do my utmost to ensure our future.”

Read the full report here.

Herzog slams PM for speech

Zionist Union party leader Isaac Herzog blasts Netanyahu for his upcoming speech to Congress, saying it is “solely for the sake of elections.

“Preaching to the choir in Congress won’t change a thing. And at the end of the day, it will sour the atmosphere, the relationship with the administration,” he says.

“I can already tell you,” he said, “the way to change what is happening in the negotiations between the coalition and Iran is through dialogue that is intensive, straightforward and intimate. Not through speeches.”

Zionist Union head and Labor Party leader MK Isaac Herzog in Tel Aviv, February 17, 2015. (photo credit Amir Levy/FLASh90)

Zionist Union head and Labor Party leader MK Isaac Herzog in Tel Aviv, February 17, 2015. (photo credit Amir Levy/FLASh90)

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