The American-style “Great Election Debate” will come to Israel on January 1, with major political leaders having accepted the idea, except for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has not responded.
The non-political Citizens’ Empowerment Center in Israel (CECI) initiated the election campaign debate, the first in Israel since the 1999 elections.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, whose expertise in communications has befuddled his opponents in the media, would have stiff competition. Former journalists Knesset Member Shelly Yechimovich, head of the Labor party, and Yesh Atid (Future) party Yair Lapid have excellent speaking skills developed in their television careers.
Both political leaders have accepted the idea of a debate, as have Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz and Yisrael Beytenu leader Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman, who is an immigrant from the former Soviet bloc, and Mofaz have been less than startling in the media.
The CECI invitation stated, “The Israeli public is interested in an open debate between the heads of the parties. A televised debate will be the best way for the parties and candidates to disseminate their visions, increase transparency and assure responsibility on the part of those who are elected."
Answering the invitation to the debate, scheduled to take place at the Bar-Ilan University north of Tel Aviv, Yechimovich’s office said she "will be happy to appear opposite Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu because the Likud and Labor parties are the two leading parties and because their agendas are clearly opposite from each other.”
Lapid’s office responded, “Lapid will be happy to take part in any public debate whose objective is to present the positions and carry out a discussion of substance on issues that concern Israeli citizens and on the necessity to change the political system in Israel.”
Lieberman was less enthusiastic, stating that the idea of a debate is positive but that specific suggestions of the format must be examined.
Mofaz stated, “Israeli citizens have a right to hear what is proposed to them from whose who want to lead them. I see a debate as being of the upmost importance, one in which the public can be exposed to the differences and gaps between Likud and Kadima."
Mofaz has the least to lose in a debate because polls show that the Kadima party will barely have enough votes to cross the minimum number needed for Knesset representation.
The debate sponsor, CECI, was founded in 2003 and says it is “based on the vision that education is the key to building an Israeli society where citizens have a clear understanding of their democratic rights and obligations and possess a strong sense of civic consciousness.”