Stav Shaffir: Democracy Doesn’t Make Loud Sound When Collapsing (with VIDEO)
Rising star of Israeli Left emphasizes need to forge peace with the Palestinians
The fourth installment of TLV Internationals’ ‘Sunset Series,’ moderated by The Media Line, featured Stav Shaffir, formerly of Israel’s Labor Party and the youngest-ever female parliamentarian in the country’s history.
She is one of the leaders of the newly formed Democratic Union, comprising the left-wing Meretz Party, headed by Nitzan Horowitz, and former prime minister Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party. In explaining the alliance’s platform, Shaffir hoped to win over new supporters by underlining the need to strengthen efforts to achieve peace and security, while preserving Israel’s status as both a Jewish-majority and democratic state.
Shaffir was voted into Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, approximately two years after playing an instrumental role in the 2011 economic protest movement that rocked the nation.
“Imagine Occupy Wall Street,” Shaffir said, referring to demonstrations held the same year in the United States over corporate corruption – “but, proportionally, the number of Israelis participating was equivalent to about 19 million Americans.” However, dejected that many of the protesters’ demands did not translate into tangible governmental action, Shaffir decided to enter the political fray.
Pinpointing the 1995 assassination of then-Labor prime minister Yitzhak Rabin as the origin of her former party’s decline, Shaffir told the crowd that, “slowly the leaders of the Left stopped fighting for many of the ideological beliefs that we have, the most important being peace.”
Shaffir attributed this stagnation to trepidation over growing “populism” she claims is promoted and practiced by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who served his first term as premier shortly after Rabin’s murder.
“I believe that the Democratic Union is now the only [political group] that is carrying on what Labor was supposed to do,” Shaffir said.
In this respect, she emphasized that the Democratic Union was a “big tent,” open to diverse segments of the population including Arab-Israelis and the ultra-Orthodox.
Aaron Hochman, who moved from New York to Tel Aviv seven weeks ago, believes Shaffir is on the right course.
“I like the Democratic Union. I’m still deciding [for whom to vote for], but I’m encouraged by what they have,” Hochman told The Media Line on the sidelines of the event. He also said it was important for new immigrants to feel comfortable voting for left-wing parties.
At the gathering, Shaffir reinforced the need to forge a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a goal she has dedicated her life to achieving.
Citing ongoing terrorism in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as threats along the northern border, Shaffir argued that the current state of affairs is unsustainable.
“That’s not supposed to be the future of Israel,” she said, adding that as a regional power the Jewish state has “the means to [make peace] and to promise it, if we [are able to uphold] our own security interests.”
Specifically, Shaffir railed against talk of annexing portions of the West Bank.
“How are we going to defend Israel? What does it even mean? That around every [Jewish community] in the West Bank [there] will be a wall? The [Right] has no security solutions for that. Nothing,” she contended.
Shaffir also stressed the necessity of preserving the democratic ideals upon which Israel was founded, and accused Netanyahu of undermining the judiciary as well as curbing press freedoms.
“Apparently, democracy doesn’t make a very loud sound when it’s collapsing,” Shaffir said.
This is especially worrisome for Jeffrey Mensch, a New Yorker who immigrated to Israel two years ago and currently resides in Jerusalem.
“I voted for Meretz in the last election and I’m planning on [casting a ballot] for the [Democratic Union in the September 17 vote],” he told The Media Line. A self-described academic on the “religious end” of the political spectrum, Mensch said that he is motivated to “protect Israel’s democratic character [by] offering equality for all of its citizens and residents.”
(Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Studies)