Yachimovich challenges Netanyahu to a public debate

Labor Party leader calls on prime minister to let their respective ideas convince voters ahead of next month’s elections; Likud rejects idea

Ilan Ben Zion is an AFP reporter and a former news editor at The Times of Israel.

Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich, October 2012. (photo credit: Oren Nahshon/Flash90)
Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich, October 2012. (photo credit: Oren Nahshon/Flash90)

Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich on Monday threw down the gauntlet and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to engage her in “the true expression of democracy” — a televised debate in advance of next month’s national elections.

Taking to the increasingly popular political battleground of social media, Yachimovich issued the challenge on the prime minister’s Facebook page. “The time has come for a public engagement, before the eyes of the nation, on the important issues that stand to be decided by the citizens of Israel,” she wrote. “I invite you to a televised debate as is acceptable in the Western world, and as was customary in Israel in the past.”

While Knesset contenders often engage in low-scale argument in informal settings, Israeli elections have not lately featured a mandatory, formal debate between prospective prime ministerial candidates.

Yachimovich, whose party is expected by most polls to become the second largest in parliament, thrusted at her opponent saying that “the public is entitled to, and we are required [to hold], an insightful, truthful discussion of the two world-views that stand before the electorate.”

Despite the fact that there are numerous other parties contending for voter support, and multiple parties projected to win seats in the double digits, Yachimovich claimed that “the only real choice is between you and me, between Likud-Beytenu and the Labor Party.”

“We went to elections because of the deteriorating economic situation — the social gaps are widening — and you are incapable of passing a budget because you are afraid to expose before the elections what you intend thereafter: a difficult, aggressive budget with more backward perspectives than ours on the role of the state and its responsibilities to its citizens,” she said.

Yachimovich called for the comprehensive debate to cover the gamut of issues faced by the Israeli government, from socio-economic problems to “foreign policy, security, the environment, rule of law” and the government’s role in Israeli society.

Likud party member Tzipi Hotovely parried Yachimovich’s attack, saying that Netanyahu was Israel’s master debater and that he would likely not accept the challenge because there were no real contenders to the Likud party.

It was not clear whether Yachimovich was interested in other party leaders to participate in the debate, but the manner in which she expressed the idea appeared to advocate a head-to-head event.

In TV interviews at the weekend, Netanyahu waved away the notion of a TV debate when asked about it by one of his interviewers.

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