Last week, a political speech from Israel’s youngest Knesset member went viral across the country–and for good reason. Standing in the Knesset plenum, 29-year-old Labor MK Stav Shaffir delivered a three-minute address that fused economic populism with political liberalism, and crystallized a promising campaign credo for the long-beleaguered Israeli left.
For years, the Israeli right has claimed ownership over Zionism, and accused the left of selling out Israel’s ideals. But in her remarks, Shaffir turned this argument on its head, contending that it is the Israeli right that has abandoned the public–and Zionism’s egalitarian ethos–in favor of protecting their narrow interests, whether among economic elites or in the settlements. “Don’t argue with us about Zionism,” she admonished her opponents, “because true Zionism is to distribute the budget equally among all citizens. True Zionism is to be concerned for the weak. True Zionism is solidarity, not only in war but in the day-to-day.”
It’s a message Shaffir is particularly suited to give, as she rose to prominence–and her place in the Knesset–through her leadership of Israel’s 2011 social justice protests. And in an election where cost of living and economic concerns top voters’ list of priorities, it’s a message that resonates.
Watch Shaffir’s speech, with English subtitles, below:
One particular part of the address deserves special mention: Shaffir’s angle of attack on the settlement enterprise. Rather than demanding that Israel simply withdraw from the West Bank–something many Israelis, including many opposed to the occupation, are skeptical would bring peace in the aftermath of the Gaza disengagement–Shaffir offered an economic rationale for putting the brakes on the settlements. This is a line of argument she has been developing for some time. Working off the research of Molad, a young leftist think tank in Jerusalem, Shaffir has assiduously followed the money going to the settlements, and exposed how such funding often results from a corrupt political process, and can come at the expense of Israel’s more impoverished sectors.
By tying her critique of the settlements to an economic rationale, rather than a security or diplomatic one, Shaffir takes the issue out of the wheelhouse of the right and into the wheelhouse of the left. This move is crucial, because when the argument takes place on the grounds of economic justice, the Israeli left has a much better chance of winning it–something they will have to do if they hope to prevail in March’s elections.
But Shaffir’s speech also offers hope for the Israeli left even if they should fail to dislodge Likud in the coming contest. That’s because Shaffir is #4 on the party’s list and in pole position to move up in the ranks should Labor find itself in opposition. Along with another popular young MK from the social protest movement, Itzik Shmuli (#5), she represents the next generation of the Israeli left, and one which would be a formidable force in the next elections. And given how short-lived Israel’s recent governments have been, those might be just around the corner.