Oren: Debates don’t work in Israel

Zionist Union’s Shai disagrees, says PM has prevented them from taking place

Michael Oren former ambassador of Israel to the United States, speaks during the Jerusalem Post Conference in New York in April. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Michael Oren former ambassador of Israel to the United States, speaks during the Jerusalem Post Conference in New York in April.
Israel should not hold American- style televised debates because they do not work in a multiparty system, Deputy Minister Michael Oren (Kulanu) said.
As the world focuses its attention on the series of debates between the US presidential candidates, Oren, a former ambassador to Washington, told The Jerusalem Post that town-hall-type meetings with representatives of multiple parties were better suited to Israel’s political system.
Standard debates, if limited to two candidates, would unfairly favor the largest parties, he said.
“Debates tend to be about who is a better debater, and I am not sure that is the criteria people are looking for in a leader,” Oren said.
“Debating skills are not essential for leadership. You can lose a debate and get your message across better.
The goal is to inform the public of your positions, and I don’t think debates are the best way to accomplish that goal.”
Oren is one of two MKs born in the United States. The other, the Likud’s Yehudah Glick, endorsed holding debates in Israel, but with reservations.
“Yes we should, though there is a problem with the fact that the system here is not a two-man system,” Glick told the Post. “A debate with too many people is not effective, but it can be limited to the two top candidates in the polls or the two party heads with the most mandates presently.”
Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai said Israel should definitely be having debates, and blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for rejecting offers to hold them in recent elections.
“It is a democratic idea that is correct and welcome,” Shai said to the Post. “But the prime minister opposes holding debates in Israel, and therefore all initiatives in the past to hold debates did not end up bearing fruit.”
There has not been a formal debate among Israeli prime ministerial candidates or contestants for the leadership of a party since 1999, mainly due to opposition from those leading in polls.
Front-runner Ehud Barak boycotted the 1999 debate, allowing Center Party candidate Yitzhak Mordechai to insult Netanyahu on his own, challenging him to “look into my eyes.”
The last time all the candidates for prime minister participated in a debate was in the 1996 election, when Netanyahu faced-off against then-incumbent Labor Party prime minister Shimon Peres.
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog called upon Netanyahu to debate him in English in February 2015, a month before the last election, during an interview with The Jerusalem Post’s Election Arena, a series of video interviews with candidates.
Herzog had been calling for Netanyahu to debate him for weeks. He was asked in the interview whether he would consider challenging the prime minister to debate him in English, which might have persuaded Netanyahu because of his strength in the language.
“I have no problem debating Bibi in English, in Hebrew or even Arabic,” Herzog said, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname. “Except [in] Yiddish, which I’m not so good at.”
After Netanyahu’s advisers saw the clip, they decided to release a statement saying he would debate Herzog only if the Zionist Union’s second candidate for prime minister, MK Tzipi Livni, was part of the debate.
“The prime minister will consider a debate on television with the candidates of the Left to form the next government, Buji and Tzipi, when he returns from the US,” the Likud said in a statement, using Herzog’s nickname.
When Livni ran against Netanyahu in 2009, she also challenged Netanyahu to a debate.
Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, who was a Netanyahu adviser at the time, rejected the challenge, saying Livni did not have enough to say to warrant holding a debate.
“Before someone comes with a debate demand, they have to have policies on the issues,” Dermer said.