Netanyahu and Lapid at a cabinet meeting in October 2014..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
‘Are Israelis aware of how bad the prime minister messed this up?” I received this message from a prominent director of an important Jewish organization in the United States. In recent days many Jewish and non-Jewish leaders in America have asked me the same question in different formats. They don’t understand how the prime minister of Israel allowed himself to get caught in the middle of a political fight between Democrats and Republicans – all for a speech which can only harm strategic relations with our greatest ally and actually undermine the campaign to stop the Iranian nuclear program.
It is a question which I have no answer to. But that question is compounded by another question: why is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu so willing to appear before the American people in English but unwilling to participate in a pre-election debate with the leaders of the other major parties in front of the Israeli people in Hebrew? This is a question which should trouble all Israelis, but especially those who are planning to vote Likud. Why would a sitting prime minister not jump at the opportunity to stand on stage and use a live television platform to present all that he has accomplished as prime minister, along with his plans for the future?
With regard to the first question, we know the answer. The prime minister won’t agree to a public debate because he knows that he doesn’t have answers to the questions that will be asked of him. The Likud went through the entire previous election campaign without a clear, public platform on the core issues, and is trying to do the same again. When confronted on the lack of a platform and the lack of a plan on most of the major issues facing Israelis, Likud candidates who I have faced on pre-election panels have no answers. Some actually said the country is managing just fine without any actual plans. Can we really afford not to have plans to fight poverty in Israel? Do we not need plans to save our health system? Is it possible for a prime minister not to have a direction he wants to take us in to improve education, find the right balance regarding religion and state, and to lower the cost of living?
Israeli voters should not allow the prime minister and his party to avoid answering these questions. We can debate each party’s plans and platforms and we can disagree on ideology. But in a vibrant democracy we must not let anyone, let alone the sitting prime minister, avoid having to answer the difficult questions.
We need to demand that the prime minister provide answers to these questions and a public debate with all the major parties would be the best forum for him to do that. Instead of equivocating, stalling and evading, a leader who is proud of his record and has a clear vision for the future should be the first to sign up for such a platform.
Debates also enable voters to see the candidates out of their comfort zones, not behind carefully crafted press releases or expensively produced campaign videos. The honesty and straightforwardness with which a candidate answers the questions is sometimes as telling as the actual content. Sadly, the prime minister seems to be running away from confronting that reality check as well.
Over the past few weeks, many English-speaking voters have asked me, “Who else can be prime minister?” My answer has been the leader of my party, Yair Lapid, and many other leaders. The notion that Netanyahu is the only person capable of serving in that role and providing Israel with security is an absurdity. And, as Netanyahu knows, a proper election debate will include harsh questions regarding the damaging decisions he has made and continues to make, like the upcoming speech to Congress which undermines our security.
No answers to the many critical questions facing Israel. That, my friends, is the ultimate reason why we won’t see Netanyahu on stage with the other candidates in Israel, but will see him revel in the attention he will get in Washington.
And that is also why everyone should think more than twice before voting for him on Election Day.
The author is a rabbi, and an MK for Yesh Atid.