Debate unlikely despite Netanyahu agreeing to Lapid challenge

Lapid warns right-wing coalition would make Netanyahu a hostage.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday agreed to opposition leader Yair Lapid’s challenge to a debate.
“I am ready to tell [Lapid] simply: Let’s agree now on a moderator and go to debate,” he said in an interview with journalist Erel Segal at a conference sponsored by right-wing Channel 20.
In response, Yesh Atid said: “It is clear Netanyahu isn’t serious.”
Lapid made the challenge at a conference hosted by Channel 12 on March 7. Since then, Netanyahu has said he would only accept the challenge when Lapid announced he was running for prime minister.
From Netanyahu’s point of view, Lapid made that announcement in an interview with Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief Yaakov Katz sponsored by the Tel Aviv International Salon on Monday night, when he said: “I am ready. The party is ready. We have the right plans, the right abilities and experience. I served in various positions that prepare you. If I had the chance, of course I would be more than honored to serve my country this way.”
While Yesh Atid denied that Lapid had formally announced his candidacy in the interview, Netanyahu immediately tweeted the headline from the event and wrote: “The truth has come to light: The upcoming election is Netanyahu or Lapid.”
There has not been a formal debate among candidates for prime minister since 1999, and there has not been one with all prime ministerial candidates since 1996.
A poll broadcast by Channel 12 on Tuesday night predicted 30 seats for Likud, 18 for Yesh Atid, 10 for Yamina and New Hope, eight each for the Joint List and Shas, seven each for Yisrael Beytenu and United Torah Judaism, six for Labor and four each for Blue and White, Meretz, the Religious Zionist Party and Ra’am (United Arab List).
Lapid continued his efforts to cannibalize votes in the Center-Left bloc at a Tel Aviv press conference on Tuesday. But he made an exception for Meretz, which is struggling to pass the 3.25% electoral threshold.
“If someone wants to vote Meretz, they should vote Meretz,” Lapid said. “It’s important that they cross the threshold. Apart from that, with all due respect to the political calculations, you can’t change the government without a large governing party. You can’t form a government without a large party. I call on the undecideds, give us your vote. Let sanity win.”
The parties in Lapid’s bloc he was referring to are Labor and Blue and White. Asked about his history with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, Lapid denied that his call was personal.
“My goal is not to go at someone’s head or settle scores,” he said. “I call on all people to look at the numbers, even if they are less comfortable, and act accordingly.”
Lapid was wrong to harm parties in the bloc, Gantz said, adding that when he headed the bloc, he did the opposite. Gantz referred to Netanyahu as “garbage” in a radio interview on Tuesday and then said he regretted the statement.
In response to Lapid, Labor leader Merav Michaeli said when Yesh Atid was large after the 2013 election, he had agreed to join a government led by Netanyahu in which Yamina leader Naftali Bennett played a central role. Labor needed to be large to replace Netanyahu, she said.
Meretz praised Lapid for “displaying responsibility.”
Shas leader Arye Deri accused Lapid of conspiring with Meretz and Yisrael Beytenu to harm Judaism in Israel.
At the press conference, Lapid expressed concern that Netanyahu could question the results of next Tuesday’s election.
“For Netanyahu, it’s either he won or it was stolen,” Lapid said. “We will make sure there will be no problems with the election. There are no indications of that. You can’t have a democracy if the country’s institutions are constantly questioned.”
At the press conference, Lapid said Netanyahu wants a negative personal fight because he wants to hide from his public that the only government he can form is with right-wing and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties United Torah Judaism, Shas, the Religious Zionist Party and Otzma Yehudit.
“It would be a government that includes the disciples of the murderer Baruch Goldstein and people who call for Yigal Amir to be freed,” he said. “It would be a government of political blackmail that will take money from hard-working people and give to people who don’t work.”
Likud would not be a governing party in such a coalition, Lapid said.
“Netanyahu will be hostage to extortionists and extremists,” he said. “He needs them to give him immunity, and he’ll pay with our money, with our children’s future, with Israel’s international relations.”
Meanwhile, Ma’an, a moderate Arab Party, has dropped out of next week’s election and would instead endorse the Joint List, it announced Tuesday.
It is too late to run together with the Joint List, but the two parties announced that from now on, Ma’an would be a fourth party in the umbrella group of Arab parties.
It was important for the Arab parties to unite, Ma’an Party head Mohammad Darawshe, who is also the director of planning, equality and shared society at Givat Haviva, said at a press conference. Because his party would not cross the electoral threshold, leaving the race was the right thing to do, he said.
After the Democratic Party also quit the race, there are now 37 parties running.
Gantz responded that Lapid was wrong to harm parties in the bloc and noted that when he headed the bloc, he did the opposite. Gantz referred to Netanyahu as “garbage” in a radio interview on Tuesday and then said he regretted the statement.
Labor leader Merav Michaeli responded to Lapid that when Yesh Atid was large after the 2013 election, he agreed to join a government led by Netanyahu in which Yamina leader Naftali Bennett played a central role. She said to replace Netanyahu, Labor needed to be large.
Meretz praised Lapid for “displaying responsibility,” while Shas leader Arye Deri accused Lapid of conspiring with Meretz and Yisrael Beytenu to harm Judaism in Israel.
At the press conference, Lapid expressed concern that Netanyahu could question the results of Tuesday’s election.
“For Netanyahu, it’s either he won or it was stolen,” Lapid said. “We will make sure there will be no problems with the election. There are no indications of that. You can’t have a democracy, if the country’s institutions are constantly questioned.”
At the press conference, Lapid said Netanyahu wants a negative personal fight because he wants to hide from his public that the only government he can form is with right-wing and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties United Torah Judaism, Shas, the Religious Zionist Party and Otzma Yehudit.
“It would be a government that includes the disciples of the murderer Baruch Goldstein, and people who call for Yigal Amir to be freed,” he warned. “It would be a government of political blackmail which will take money from hard working people and give to people who don’t work.”
Lapid said Likud would not be a governing party in such a coalition.
“Netanyahu will be hostage to extortionists and extremists,” he said. “He needs them to give him immunity and he’ll pay with our money, with our children’s future, with Israel’s international relations.”
Meanwhile, the moderate Arab Party Ma’an announced on Tuesday that it has dropped out of next Tuesday’s election and would instead endorse the Joint List.
It is too late to run together with the Joint List, but the two parties announced that from now on, Ma’an would be a fourth party in the umbrella group of Arab parties.
Ma’an Party head Mohammad Darawshe, who is also the director of planning, equality and shared society at Givat Haviva, said at a press conference that it was important for the Arab parties to unite and that because his party was not crossing the threshold, leaving the race was the right thing to do.
After the Democratic Party also quit the race, there are now 37 parties running.