Israeli party leaders butt heads in televised debate

The debate format pitted individual candidates against one another, debating the issues that divide them most.

Party leaders gather at Channel 2 studios for a televised debate (photo credit: CHANNEL 2)
Party leaders gather at Channel 2 studios for a televised debate
(photo credit: CHANNEL 2)
The leaders of eight parties – Bayit Yehudi, Yisrael Beytenu, Koolanu, Yesh Atid, the Joint List, Meretz, Shas, and Yahad – participated in the first debate of its kind on Israeli television, moderated by Channel 2 News anchor Yonit Levi Thursday night.
Absent from the debate were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud Party, and Zionist Union chairman MK Isaac Herzog.
The debate format pitted individual candidates against one another, debating the issues that divide them most.
Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett and Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On debated the twostate solution.
“We are the only ones who say clearly that we will not allow a centimeter of land to be given to Arabs,” Bennett declared.
“We will apply sovereignty to Ariel and Ma’aleh Adumim.”
Gal-On said Bennett thinks “five million Palestinians will just disappear,” and that his positions will cause apartheid.
“Everything Zehava says may sound good, but it’s all wrong. A Palestinian state will destroy Israel’s economy. One rocket closed our airport last summer,” Bennett said.
“Bennett is doing what he does best, fear-mongering,” Gal- On stated.
“Who do you want to give the Golan to, Nasrallah or Islamic State?” the Bayit Yehudi chairman retorted.
Bennett also slammed Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman and Koolanu chairman Moshe Kahlon for supporting a Palestinian state.
Referring to his populated land swap proposal, as opposed to Bennett’s plan to annex Area C, Liberman said: “Bennett wants as many Palestinians as possible in the country, and we want as many Jews.”
Bennett said he is confident that the demographic threat can be tackled by increased aliya and the birth rate, and Liberman responded that only Yisrael Beytenu has aliya as a central tenet of its platform.
Kahlon said: “I have been in the national camp my whole life, but I think we need to reach an agreement. There are lines I won’t cross, like dividing Jerusalem or giving up the Jordan Valley.”
However, Kahlon added that talking about negotiations is pointless, because there is no one to talk to on the Palestinian side, so the government should focus on lowering the cost of living, instead.
Gal-On posited that if Israel stops “ruling another nation,” then the cost of living would drop.
Shas chairman Arye Deri and his party’s former leader and founder of the Yahad Party, Eli Yishai, argued over the legacy of the late Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Deri was visibly agitated, while Yishai grinned the entire time, but the former got in more points, saying that the latter broke off from Shas only because Ovadia died.
“He is destroying [Ovadia’s] life’s work,” Deri accused.
“This is not how [Ovadia] taught us to behave,” Yishai responded. “You wouldn’t speak like that in front of him. I won’t be dragged into mudslinging.”
Yishai posited that what Ovadia wanted was for the Jewish people to be united, and Deri responded that Ovadia would not have worked with Kahanists or people from Bayit Yehudi, both of which are on Yahad’s list.
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Liberman butted heads with Joint (Arab) List leader Ayman Oudeh.
“He threatens people who want to do national service and is still a citizen. What kind of country allows that?” Liberman asked.
Oudeh responded that he feels like Liberman is “from the 1930s” and called for “dialogue, not mudslinging” between Jews and Arabs.
“We’re 20 percent of the country,” Oudeh pointed out.
“For now,” Liberman retorted.
“What are you even doing here? You call yourself Palestinian, not Israeli, so you should go to the Palestinian parliament so Abbas can pay you.”
Oudeh responded that, considering recent polls – in which his party would get seats in the teens and Yisrael Beytenu gets single-digits – he doesn’t think that he’s the one who’s unwanted.
Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid debated Koolanu chairman Moshe Kahlon on housing, with the latter saying prices went up 17% while the former was finance minister.
Lapid emphasized how many new homes are being built.
“Maybe the bureaucrats didn’t tell you this. Do you know how many [new homeowners] got keys last year? 7,800. There are no new houses,” Kahlon said.
Lapid also debated Deri, bringing up his corruption charges.
“Why are felons allowed back in the Knesset?” Lapid asked.
“You are a convicted felon and you need rehabilitation. Don’t come back to politics!” “You’re going to rehabilitate me? What is this condescension?” Deri asked.
Deri said that Lapid was condescending to him, because “I’m named Arye Machlouf Deri and I was born in Meknes (Morocco)” - in other words, because he is Sephardic.
Deri also said that he does not reject Lapid as a person, but in light of his unwavering political stances – requiring haredim to study the core curriculum and enlist in the IDF – Shas and Yesh Atid cannot sit in a coalition together.
Liberman and Gal-On each said they would not sit in a government with the other.
“Liberman is a racist. He doesn’t deserve to sit with the center-left bloc,” Gal-On stated.
Also in the debate, Oudeh, despite being asked directly, refused to commit to recommending or not recommending Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog to form the next government, saying only that he wants the right to lose power.