Gantz refuses debate challenge, says it’s a spin diverting from PM’s trial

Netanyahu: He won't debate me, because he's a leftist

On their way to Washington: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz (photo credit: REUTERS)
On their way to Washington: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz declined to debate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on live television, saying on Wednesday in a press conference at Ramat Gan’s Kfar Hamaccabiah Hotel, “I don’t work for his political spin, and I don’t work for him.”
Gantz said that the offer of a debate that Netanyahu made on Tuesday night was intended to change the subject from the March 17 date set for Netanyahu’s criminal trial.
“For 10 years, Netanyahu refused to debate, including in the last two elections, so it cannot be anything more than spin,” a source close to Gantz said. “We don’t have a problem with a debate. We have a problem with changing the agenda away from Netanyahu’s trial.”
Asked if Wednesday’s reports that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit will soon probe Gantz’s bankrupt company The Fifth Dimension would necessitate changing the agenda again, Gantz’s associates said he still would not agree to a debate.
Netanyahu called on Gantz to debate him for the second night in a row on Wednesday night at a Likud rally in Acre. Netanyahu said Gantz does not want to debate him because he wants to hide from the public that “he is a leftist.”
“He cannot handle the pressure of a televised debate, so how can he handle the greater pressure that there is in being prime minister of Israel?” Netanyahu asked. “Benny Gantz is scared to come. Israel needs a real leader. Benny Gantz is afraid to come to a debate, because people will see he is not a leader. He quotes what his PR people tell him to say. He has nothing to offer.”
Netanyahu initially invited Gantz to debate him on television in an interview on Tuesday night on Channel 20.
“Let’s tell the truth without teleprompters about what we have done for Israel,” Netanyahu said. “Let’s do a few debates, like in the US, one each on diplomatic, security and economic issues.”
Netanyahu debated then-prime minister Shimon Peres ahead of the 1996 election, and Yitzhak Mordechai, who was one of his challengers in the 1999 election. But despite his reputation for bringing American-style politics to Israel, Netanyahu has refrained from holding formal debates against political opponents since then.
Likud faction chairman Miki Zohar said last week that Netanyahu was considering challenging Gantz to a televised debate.
“It is absolutely right for the prime minister to debate Gantz,” Zohar said. “I know he hasn’t wanted to debate in the past, but he is the underdog now. A debate would show the voters his verbal advantage and superior knowledge. He will beat him easily.”
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman responded to Netanyahu’s remarks in a tweet, challenging him to a debate as well.
“Bibi, I was glad to finally hear that you’re ready to have a confrontation. I urge you to confront me before March 2, wherever and whenever you choose,” Liberman said.
Netanyahu’s spokesman responded by comparing Liberman to someone unconnected trying to get into someone’s selfie.
Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz challenged Culture Minister Miri Regev to a debate.
Many media outlets offered to host a Netanyahu-Gantz debate. The Jerusalem Post reached out to both Gantz and Netanyahu to participate in a debate in English that would be broadcast by
A Netanyahu adviser endorsed the idea, calling it “huge.”
Idan Zonshine contributed to this story.