Stav Shaffir is still idealistic.
A year-and-a-half after entering the Knesset, following her co-leadership of Israel’s largest ever mass protests against economic inequality, the 31-year-old redhead’s passion still shines brightly through wide grey-blue eyes.
During a stop-in at the Forward Friday while visiting the United States, Shaffir, who is now a member of the Labor Party opposition, asked staff members rhetorically, “When I say the word ‘politics,’ what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?”
“Corruption,” she said, answering her own query. Almost universally, young people tell her this, she related, to which she responds by asking them: “How come you feel you have the right not to replace all these people? How can our generation stand outside? Look at all these people making decisions for our future. And you think we have the right of not changing that system?”
During a 90-minute discussion, Shaffir rejected the notion that Israel had turned irredeemably to the right: In recent polls, she claimed, 60% of the public continues to voice support for a two-state solution.
(In fact, a June 2015 poll found that support for a two-state solution had decreased among Israelis from 62% in 2014 to 51%. The survey was conducted by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah. Though somewhat different from the question of support, a Pew Research Center poll released last March found that only 43% of Israeli Jews and 50% of Israeli Arabs believe “a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully.”)
Shaffir insisted, too, that Israel remained a “vibrant democracy” despite recent laws and legislative proposals sponsored by the right-wing coalition in power that she deemed anti-democratic.
The Knesset’s youngest female member brushed aside questions about who among the current Zionist opposition’s leaders—a group widely perceived as lacking in stature—might rally dispirited voters on the left and in the center to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the right’s rein now of 15 years.
“I think the question for our party is, what’s the vision?” she said. “There’s disappointment and distrust from both sides that has prevented many people from my generation from even entering politics.”
But in the Knesset, Shaffir pointed out, despite perceptions of Israel’s hard-right tilt, the right and left bloc is currently roughly matched in terms of numbers. To gain power to change things, she said, parties in the center and on the left must unite under one umbrella and choose one leader through a democratic primary process.
This unified, trans-party faction should include “everyone who believes in a two-state solution; in economic principles based on social justice, and in the separation of religion and state,” said Staffir.
But support for a two-state solution was the most important, she added.
“Time works against us on every front,” said Staffir. “If Israel continues on the track to a one-state reality, it will be the end of the Zionist vision, and that’s the track we’re on.” Given the lack of any serious interest by the Netanyahu government in getting off this track, she explained, “we have to win power to reach an agreement. If we don’t win because of lack of unity, because of ego, it’s really a betrayal.”
She cited the Arab League’s longstanding peace proposal, which offers recognition of Israel by the Arab world if Israel reaches an agreement with the Palestinians for a Palestinian state, as the basis for a “draft” in initiating negotiations.
Members of the Arab bloc in the Knesset who accept her three key theses should also be welcomed into this pro-two-state bloc she said, though she noted that the coalition of Arab parties currently grouped together in alliance include some who do not. Shaffir noted that even some Likud members, such as former cabinet minister Dan Meridor, now espouse a two-state solution. They, too, should be brought in.
After 15 years in power, the ruling coalition led by Israel’s Likud faction, had not brought security or even moved to implement measures many of its own members advocate, such as annexing the Israeli-occupied West Bank or retaking Gaza. “They know all this would be a stupid mistake,” said Shaffir. Instead, with no solutions, “We see more and more their use of fear,” she said.
Shaffir cited a recently passed law, widely criticized as violating democratic norms, to curb the influence of progressive non-governmental organizations as one example.
Netanyahu also tells Israelis there is no prospect for a two-state solution, she said. “We will live forever by the sword,” he told the country last October
“Hope becomes the enemy,” she said.
But “hope,” she said “is our national anthem”—the literal translation of the song “HaTikva.” Crushing it, she said “is just non-Israeli.”
This story "Israel’s Stav Shaffir Fights To Keep Hope Alive" was written by Larry Cohler-Esses.
Larry Cohler-Esses was the Forward’s assistant managing editor and news editor. He joined the staff in December 2008. Previously, he served as Editor-at-Large for the Jewish Week, an investigative reporter for the New York Daily News, and as a staff writer for the Jewish Week as well as the Washington Jewish Week. Larry has written extensively on the Arab-Jewish relations both in the United States and the Middle East. His articles have won awards from the Society for Professional Journalists, the Religious Newswriters Association, the New York Press Association and the Rockower Awards for Jewish Journalism, among others.