Wednesday, July 27th, 2016...4:10 pm

Editorial: ‘Two societies bleeding into each other’

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The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) held its biennial convention in Minneapolis, from July 18-21. I attended parts of two afternoon sessions at the Minneapolis Convention Center: on July 18, I heard Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speak (she got the AFT endorsement for president); and on July 19, I attended a session that featured, among other speakers, Stav Shaffir, the youngest female Knesset member in Israel’s history.

After Shaffir’s speech, I met her for a brief chat.

A petite, 29-year-old woman with flame-red hair, Shaffir came to prominence in Israel during the popular 2011 social justice protest. On leafy Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, thousands of disgruntled Israelis erected tents and camped-in to protest the increasingly out-of-reach cost of everything from apartments to cottage cheese. The “tent protest” spread to other cities in Israel.

Stav Shaffir speaks at the American Federation of Teachers biennial convention in Minneapolis on July 19. (Photo by Mordecai Specktor).

Stav Shaffir speaks at the American Federation of Teachers biennial convention in Minneapolis on July 19. (Photo: Mordecai Specktor).

In 2013, Shaffir became a member of the Knesset on the Labor Party list. In 2015, Labor merged with Hatnua, former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s party, and Shaffir gained the fourth spot on the new Zionist Union list for the Israeli parliament.

In the Knesset, Shaffir has troubled the waters with her calls for financial transparency. As a member of the Knesset Finance Committee, Shaffir has succeeded in getting the Ministry of Finance to publish budgetary transfers online in advance of meetings. She continues to campaign for redirecting public money going to support West Bank settlements, and for her trouble, has been forcibly removed from committee meetings on occasion.

 

Shaffir said that she traveled to the United States to speak at the AFT convention.

“We’re building more connections between unions here and unions in Israel, between progressive organizations and progressive movements in the world to what we’re doing in Israel. And I’m dedicating some of my time also to fighting BDS initiatives that I see more and more here, especially among the young generation and within the Jewish community.”

Shaffir, who is an IDF veteran and a journalist, mentioned that whenever she visits the States, she dedicates time “to talk to young people and convince them that the best way to really help Israel and to really achieve a two-state solution is to support the progressives, and help us build a strong political camp for a two-state solution — not to go into BDS initiatives and into boycott initiatives that only distance us from reaching a solution.”

Young American Jews are “getting more and more distanced from Israel,” according to Shaffir. “It’s easy for some politicians in Israel to ignore” this phenomenon; but in the years to come, these young Jews will hold important posts in the public and private sectors, and their disconnectedness to Israel will be “really damaging” to the Jewish state, “really damaging to Israel’s security interests.”

Rather than support the Netanyahu government and right-wing political factions, or join the BDS movement, Shaffir proposes that these disaffected, young American Jews pursue a third option: “If they want to be active, they need to be active in helping us really reach a two-state solution, do everything that we can in order to convince Israelis that our solution and our vision is the best one, the most secure one, and only one really for an Israel that is Jewish and democratic. I think this third way gives them an option to connect with us.”

And Shaffir argues that the Israeli government’s efforts to stem the tide of BDS, on university campuses, for example, are not speaking to young Jews critical of Israeli government policies, including human rights abuses attending to the military occupation of Palestinian communities.

In the U.S., the anti-BDS campaign is funded mainly by “pro-Israel” billionaires, such as Sheldon Adelson, who also has poured tens of millions of dollars into GOP presidential campaigns. Vis-à-vis Shaffir’s low estimation of official Israeli initiatives against BDS, American Jews, young and old, those who want no part of Adelson’s politics, will be repelled by anti-BDS activism of this type.

I also asked Shaffir to characterize the current mood in Israel, amid a spate of knife and shooting attacks perpetrated mainly by young Palestinians. The nihilistic terrorist attacks began in October 2015.

“People in Israel have survived and will survive through this wave of terror,” she responded. “But I think it shows us more than anything what the future will look like if there will not be a two-state solution. The future means two societies bleeding into each other for decades to come. That’s the status quo.”

Shaffir added, “We have to make a choice whether we want the status quo to continue — which I think is a disaster — or if we want to end it. And the whole idea about politics and leadership is to be able to make these choices at the right time. Now, the right time has already been, like yesterday. It must happen urgently.”

— Mordecai Specktor / editor [at] ajwnews [dot] com

(American Jewish World, 7.29.16)

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