Stav Shaffir, a co-founder of Israel’s social protest movement, recently visited New York and Ameinu hosted her along with her colleague Yonatan Levi.
The charismatic redheaded 26 year old has been featured in Time Magazine, The New York Times, and on BBC among others. Her columns have been published in the Israeli press, including Haaretz, Yedioth Aharonot, TheMarker, Ynet, and the Jewish Review of Books.
Before the 2011 protest movement was initiated, Stav worked as an editor for Yedioth Aharonot’s website and studied for her Master’s degree in the Philosophy and History of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University. Stav has a BA in Journalism and Sociology from City University London, where she was the recipient of the Olive Tree Program scholarship, a unique initiative for young leaders from Israel and Palestine. She also studied Music Composition at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music and volunteered for educational and political initiatives, such as conflict resolution between the secular and the religious Jewish communities, and with asylum seekers in Israel.
During her visit to the United States, we discussed the movement’s future with her.
1) Ameinu: We followed the press coverage of the Israeli social protest movement last summer, particularly the creation of tent cities and the large demonstrations. What has the movement been doing since that time?
Stav: We have been actively building a movement structure for the long term; this is only the first mile of a marathon. This includes creating a training program for leaders in various areas including among academics, students and workers. We put together committee of experts which include 250 people with various areas of expertise to study problems and propose solutions.
At the same time, we have also built a network of struggles as issues arise. For example, when there are evacuations of public housing, people spontaneously gather to fight it. Many of our demonstrations are held not in the city centers, but at the outskirts, in the poorer neighborhoods. These demonstrations tend to receive a much harsher confrontation by the police, which is treating us more violently and often arresting us. When you’re far from the cameras and the journalists, you are more fragile. That’s how it works with demonstrations, and unfortunately, that’s also reflecting our socio-economical gaps – for those who are on the lower side, it is harder to make their voices heard.
2) Ameinu: Can you point to concrete achievements by the movement so far in terms of legislation, government action or in other ways?
Stav: While it is only the beginning of the struggle, we have already achieved quite a bit, including free education beginning at the age of three. We managed to reverse Prime Minister Netanyahu’s disastrous tax reform plan that would have raised taxes on the middle class and lower taxes on the rich. We supported the successful strike by contract workers, one of the least protected groups in the work force. In addition, there are affordable housing projects beginning around the country.
3) Ameinu: Some people say that involvement with the Israeli electoral system will be necessary to truly make the changes you desire. How do you see this issue?
Stav: We believe that social activists should belong to, and influence, all parties. In the past people felt betrayed by the politicians and many did not even vote; they felt the political process was stuck. We want to keep social issues on the national agenda, not just security issues. Many of the protesters are joining parties, including Meretz, Labor and Kadima, and even Likud – wanting to influence it from within. We may also see new parties emerge before the next elections.
4) Ameinu: American Jews traditionally focus on issues of security and peace when it comes to Israel. How would you like to see us engage with the issues you have raised of social and economic justice?
Stav: We want to create a global Jewish network which is part of this huge, beautiful global uprising. In the past, Zionism meant creating a safe shelter for Jews, but now it has morphed into a bomb shelter. This is not what we want for our future. Jews all over can help us create a new Zionist dream. Our security is not only a military problem. It depends on our education system, our health care services and our right to be respected at work and in our democracy. The Israel that we want to build is one that takes care of all of these issues, and promises a real home for all of its citizens: Jewish and Arab, Ashkenazi and Sephardic, religious and secular.