Israeli debate of political party heads waiting for Bibi’s answer

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Leaders of Israel’s major political parties accepted an invitation to an American-style debate, except for Likud leader and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The debate sponsored by the Citizens’ Empowerment Center is scheduled for Jan. 1 at Tel Aviv University, according to the organization’s website.

“We all — left and right, religious and secular, Jews and Arabs — have a clear interest in knowing exactly who we choose and why,” the Citizens’ Empowerment Center said on its website. “Are you sure you do know the subtle but critical differences between the positions of the various candidates, not on a superficial level, but on the level of the specific nature and intentions? The answer is no.”

Party chairs Shelly Yachimovich (Labor), Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) and Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) reportedly have agreed to participate, according to the Israeli media. Yair Lapid, chair of the new Yesh Atid party, also has accepted.

Lieberman said he will participate if Netanyahu agrees to join the debate. Netanyahu has not yet responded, according to Ynet.

Yoni Cohen-Idov, who won the World Debate Championship in 2010 and serves as a debate coach at Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University and Bar-Ilan University, will supervise the debate.

The last political debate was held in Israel in 1999, the second and final time that there were direct elections for prime minister. The leading candidates did not participate.

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