An Israeli flag is seen in the background as a man casts his ballot for the parliamentary election.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Debates between leading candidates are standard in elections in the US and other countries.
But in Israel, there has not been a debate among all the candidates running for prime minister since the election between Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and then-prime minister Shimon Peres in 1996. Since then, the candidate perceived as the front-runner always scuttled plans for such a debate.
Front-runner Ehud Barak boycotted a 1999 debate between Netanyahu and Center Party candidate Yitzhak Mordechai in which Mordechai famously challenged Netanyahu to “look into my eyes.”
In the 2009 election, then-Labor leader Ehud Barak and then-Kadima head Tzipi Livni both challenged Netanyahu to a debate, but he turned them down.
A former international debate champion has begun an effort to change that ahead of the March 17 election. Yoni Cohen-Iduv built a website at http://israeldebate.com/ and a Facebook page in an effort to encourage a debate in Israel.
“The people who ask us to vote for them for the most important positions in the country cannot ask for our trust without explaining us clearly what they intend to do if we intend to appoint them, what the differences are between them,” he wrote on his website.
Cohen-Iduv wrote politicians in Israel mistakenly believe that a debate is when candidates go on television and scream or utter slogans.
“That is why many do not understand that need for a debate,” he lamented.
So far, the only party leader who has called for a debate is the Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog, speaking on Channel 2 Monday night. Netanyahu is not expected to agree.
The fact that Cohen-Iduv once worked for Yediot Aharonot, a newspaper Netanyahu’s associates have said is working to topple him, makes it even less likely the prime minister will agree.
Ahead of the January 2013 election, the Movement for Quality Government wrote a letter to Netanyahu and his competition saying that Israel requires a debate between its top candidates to ensure that the public will know what they stand for.
“In a democratic country in which elected officials are our representatives, it is especially important to have an organized public debate between those who see themselves as prime ministerial candidates,” the movement wrote in the letter.
The movement said the short and intensive electoral campaign Israel is experiencing made it even more crucial that a debate be held. It said it would allow candidates to sharpen their views and separate themselves from the pack.
Following a debate between then-US presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid called for Israel to hold a debate.
Netanyahu’s office declined to respond to the challenge.