We should demand a real election debate and answers to our questions

I suspect that many Israelis won’t vote at all.

WHAT WOULD an Israel election debate look like? (photo credit: REUTERS)
WHAT WOULD an Israel election debate look like?
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As an undecided voter who has no idea whom to vote on September 17, one thought came to mind while watching the debates this week featuring 20 candidates vying to become the Democratic candidate for president for the United States: why don’t we demand this kind of debate in Israel, and force party leaders to face off against each other and answer policy questions?
While imagining how that debate would look, I thought about some of the questions I would want to ask the leaders of each party to help determine whom I will vote for.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud):
• Question #1: While you have done a remarkable job on the diplomatic front developing relationships between Israel and other countries, what is your plan to heal the fractured relationships within Israel – between secular and religious, between Jews and Arabs, between Ethiopian immigrants and the police? In addition, what is your plan to fix the broken Israel-Diaspora relationship?
• Question #2: What is your plan to bring down the cost of living and housing in Israel?
• Question #3: Before the last election, you appeared on national television and made it clear you would not pursue legislation to provide you with immunity from prosecution. How do you explain that the first agenda pursued by your party after the April 9 election was legislation to provide you with immunity?
Former justice minister Ayelet Shaked (United Right):
• Question #1: You are running on a platform that includes being liberal on issues of religion and state. Will you join a government in which the ultra-Orthodox parties are given complete control of those religion and state issues? If your answer is no, will you stay with that approach even if it means that the right wing cannot form the government?
• Question #2: You have been critical of the government’s weak response to rockets and incendiary balloons from Gaza. How do you want the government to reply, and does this include sending in ground troops knowing that many more are likely to be killed than the 66 soldiers who were killed in 2014? Do you believe we should retake control of the Gaza Strip and once again be in control of two million Palestinians who live there?
MK Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu):
• Question #1: You sat in governments that gave the ultra-Orthodox full control over religious issues in Israel, and you entered a government that nullified the law on drafting haredim to the IDF. What has changed now that you decided to send Israel to a do-over election on issues that you overlooked in the past?
• Question #2: Your party has held the Immigration and Absorption Ministry for many years and demanded it again as a condition for joining the next government. What has your minister done to help English-speaking immigrants with their absorption, and what plans do you have to help this population in the future?
Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman (United Torah Judaism):
• Question #1: What percentage of the 55,000 young men who have received an exemption from serving in the IDF in order to study Torah day and night are studying Torah day and night as their only pursuit? And why aren’t you forcing those who are not studying day and night to serve in the IDF or do national service?
• Question #2: Do you think that Malka Leifer, who is accused of serious crimes of sexual abuse against her students in Australia, should be extradited to face trial as the Australian government is demanding?
Interior Minister Arye Deri (Shas):
• Question #1: Please explain why you take the extreme and stringent stance on issues of religion and state. Wouldn’t it attract more people to religion if you pursued a path of embracing others and being more accommodating within the framework of Halacha (Jewish law)?
• Question #2: Moshe Abutbol was voted out as mayor of Beit Shemesh by thousands of ultra-Orthodox residents who saw him as responsible for generating tensions between populations in the city, and blamed him for lack of proper city management and planning. Why is he on the Shas list for Knesset, and will you work to make sure he serves as a member of Knesset by having ministers resign so those further down on the list can enter?
MK Benny Gantz (Blue and White):
• Question #1: Your party includes right-wing politicians like Moshe Ya’alon and Yoaz Hendel who do not see Israeli control over the West Bank as an “occupation.” But it also includes Ofer Shelah and Yael German who do call it an “occupation.” Which is your party’s official policy?
• Question #2: Your party includes Yair Lapid who believes in strong rhetoric and policy regarding the ultra-Orthodox and serving in the IDF. It also includes an ultra-Orthodox woman who has openly rejected such an approach, and you yourself – who recently met with an ultra-Orthodox leader and went on a tour of Bnei Brak – have clearly indicated a less confrontational approach toward the ultra-Orthodox. Which is your party’s official policy?
• Question #3: What is your party’s plan to bring down the cost of living and housing in Israel?
MK Amir Peretz (Labor):
• Question #1: Do you define your party as left-wing? Why or why not?
• Question #2: What is your plan to bring down the cost of living and housing in Israel?
• Question #3: Would you join a Netanyahu government in the current situation before he has actually been indicted?
Former MK Nitzan Horowitz (Democratic Camp):
• Question #1: Please explain why you think if we pull out of the West Bank and divide Jerusalem that Hamas won’t take over those areas, and Israel will find itself in a much better security situation than now? Why won’t they do the same as they did in Gaza?
• Question #2: Please explain what a Jewish state means to you.
MK Ayman Odeh (Joint Arab List):
• Question #1: If you had your choice between living in Israel and any other country in the Middle East, which would you choose?
• Question #2: Whom would you choose as your ideal candidate for prime minister of Israel, and why?
And finally, questions for all candidates:
• Question #1: What is your opinion on electoral reform, and specifically, creating a system of regional representation and raising the threshold to enter the Knesset?
• Question #2: What is your plan to reduce fatalities in traffic deaths on our roads?
• Question #3: What is your plan to help the ultra-Orthodox population enter the workforce and support their families?
• Question #4: What is your plan to end discrimination against the Ethiopian-Israeli population, and will you enable the aliyah of immediate family members of Ethiopian-Israelis who are waiting to be reunited with their families in Israel?
• Question #5: What will you do to make sure that there are no agunot (“chained women” who cannot secure a divorce) in Israel?
The candidate lists have been finalized and submitted and I seriously have no idea whom to vote for in September, and I know I am not the only one. It’s a shame that we won’t have the opportunity to see the candidates on stage facing off against one another, and it’s an even bigger shame that the election does not feature a real exchange of ideas and substantive discussions about ideology and policy, but is instead reduced to ad hominem attacks on party personalities.
And sadly, if this doesn’t change, I suspect that many Israelis won’t vote at all.
The writer served as a member of the 19th Knesset.