Eight-Way Election Debate Provides High Drama

Televised debate between party heads included a heated confrontation between Liberman and Galon that may seal fate of Labor coalition.

Gil Ronen ,

Pre-debate pose
Pre-debate pose
Flash 90

An eight-way televised debate Thursday between the heads of most of parties expected to enter the next Knesset included heated confrontations between Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) and Zehava Galon (Meretz), in which Liberman said he was happy that the Left was rapidly dwindling and turning into “a nature reserve” and that its supporters would soon fit into a telephone booth.

The heads of the two largest parties, Likud and Labor, did not attend, however.

Galon attacked Liberman for being a “racist” and “fascist” and Liberman said that there is no way that his party would ever sit with Meretz in the same coalition. This statement will be hard to retract and it further lessens the chances of the formation of a “center-left” coalition headed by Labor that would include Liberman's party.

Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid attacked Shas head Aryeh Deri, who served a jail sentence for corruption, calling him a “convicted criminal” but adding smugly that he was “willing” to help Deri “reform.” Deri asked Lapid how it was that he used to sit with him in coffee shops after he served time and yet was attacking him so harshly now. Asked if he ruled out sitting in the same coalition with Deri's Shas party, Lapid said that after pushing through the Enlistment Law and other reforms that will force haredi men to integrate into society, he has no problem anymore sitting with Deri.

Lapid attacked Naftali Bennett for allegedly investing disproportional amounts of government money in Judea and Samaria – but Bennett resolutely denied this, adding – as Lapid tried to stare him down – that “the fact that you are doing that with your eyebrows doesn't make it true.”

Bennett came under fierce attack from Galon, who accused him of inciting against the Left and used similar epithets to those she had devoted to Liberman. Bennett fired back heatedly, noting that the Left has made political hay blaming the Right for the Rabin murder for 20 years, but that he was serving in Lebanon during the Rabin murder, “protecting you.” Galon tore into Bennett's reply repeatedly.

Liberman told Ayman Odeh of the United Arab Party that the Arab MKs are a treasonous “fifth column” in the Knesset, causing Galon to jump to Odeh's defense. Odeh retorted, blaming Liberman of corruption and claiming that the Arab MKs were law-abiding citizens, to which Liberman replied by asking him where Azmi Bishara had gone.

Bishara, who founded the Arab Balad party, escaped Israel over treason charges.

One of the tensest moments was a confrontation between Aryeh Deri and Eli Yishai (Ha'am Itanu – Yahad). Deri accused Yishai of going against Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's wishes and establishing a party that split Shas. Yishai quoted the Talmudic dictum “aseh leha rav” – “make a rabbi for yourself,” or “find yourself a mentor” and noted that Deri, too, had been about to found a separate movement at one point in his career, when Yishai headed Shas.