Netanyahu Willing to Debate Lapid—On Condition

YERUSHALAYIM -
Israeli workers hanging a huge election campaign poster showing Opposition leader Yair Lapid. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu‏‏ said on Wednesday that he would consider accepting Opposition Leader Yair Lapid’s challenge to a debate. But only if the latter would admit that he is running for prime minister.

Lapid, the founder of the secularist, anti-chareidi Yesh Atid party, issued the challenge on Sunday in an interview with Channel 12 News, though he has avoiding saying outright that he wants to be prime minister.

“I am interested in a debate with Netanyahu,” he said, adding that it is “more important that Netanyahu ends his term than I become prime minister.”

Netanyahu responded on Tuesday, saying on Army Radio that he is “certainly prepared to consider a debate with Yair Lapid, the moment he decides to stop hiding behind [Naftali] Bennett and Gideon [Saar] and tell the truth — he is running for prime minister.”

In recent weeks, contacts have been held among the opposition parties, all of whom aim to topple Netanyahu. In the event they garner enough votes to form a government—an unlikely prospect—Lapid would be the putative prime minister, since his party is the second largest, with 20 seats, far ahead of Bennett and Saar, according to the polls.

After the radio interview, Netanyahu took another swipe at Lapid on Twitter, writing that “as we emerge from the coronavirus and must restore our economy, we need to decide who will be the next prime minister — Lapid or me. Lapid, the worst finance minister in Israel’s history, or me, who saved Israel from two economic crises. You decide.”

Lapid served as finance minister in a previous government led by Netanyahu.

New Hope leader Gideon Saar inserted himself into the debate over the debate with a tweet of his own on Wednesday, addressing Netanyahu: “Don’t hide behind Lapid, what are you afraid of? Come to a debate.”

If the debate happens, it would be the first between two leading candidates for Israel’s premiership in 24 years. The last time was in 1996 between Netanyahu and then-prime minister Shimon Peres. Netanyahu went on to win that election.