On Tuesday evening, July 2nd, I was walking along Eliezer Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv, when I saw Stav Shaffir, firebrand Member of the Knesset, standing outside a bunting-bedecked Beit Sokolov, the home of the Israel Journalists Association. I walked up to her. I said, “I voted for you.” She smiled. She pressed my hand. She said “Yesh!” (yay!)
It had been a strange evening. I was walking between one tiny demonstration — a public reading of testimonies by imprisoned Palestinian children, read aloud in HaBima Square by members of Parents Against Child Detention — to another, much larger demonstration by Ethiopian-Israeli youth protesting the killing, by a police officer in Haifa, of 18-year-old Solomon Teka. Earlier in the day, I had voted in the Labor Party primaries for Stav Shaffir as the party’s future leader. I was convinced she would win. Alas, she did not.
I am not easily overawed by politicians, but there was something ineffable about my seemingly random encounter with Shaffir. It was not the first time I had met her: in the third week of June, I had listened to her speak at a house meeting in my town of Modiin. I found her compelling: calm, courageous, willing to speak difficult truths about the State of Israel’s declining democracy. “Whenever there is a danger to democracy, there’s no point where democracy suddenly stops,” she said, speaking in Hebrew. “It’s a slow process.”
She spoke about her fight, as a member of the Knesset’s Finance Committee, to expose a system by which billions of shekels of public funds were transferred to unsupervised entities. She spoke of the need for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She spoke of overturning the status quo. She spoke of how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had tried every trick to stay in power, of how we have to fight against extreme-right-winger Bezalel Smotich’s fantasy of a state ruled by biblical law, as “in the days of King David,” and how, if we do not defeat Netanyahu, Israel’s democracy is in danger.
With her dynamism and drive and strong social media presence, Shaffir signed up 4,000 new members of the Labor Party in the weeks leading up to the primaries; I am one of them. I joined, as many others did, in order to vote for her as leader. In addition, Labor is the only party which has included, in its manifesto, a pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in line with the recommendations of The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
In the Tuesday primaries, Amir Peretz, a veteran MK and former defense minister, won 47 percent of the vote and will be the new Labor Party leader. As Anshel Pfeffer noted in Haaretz, “Labor members voted for gravitas over young blood”; these “long-suffering party members” felt that appointing inexperienced thirtysomething former social justice warriors “was a bit too much for the party that founded Israel and ruled it for half its history.”
Pfeffer also noted that Peretz “carries around with him a detailed and serious peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” which, he later explained in a tweet, is “an actual multi-stage and very detailed plan, of how the Israeli government can work towards a two-state solution.” I am certainly interested in learning more about Peretz’s two-state solution plan, although it remains to be seen whether the Labor Party, with Peretz at its helm, can improve upon its disastrous performance in the April 2019 Knesset elections, when it won a mere six seats.
What was the ineffable feeling I had when I met Shaffir in the street? It was a sense of connection. True, she had attended many meetings in the past month, and was unlikely to remember me personally. Yet she thanked me and gave me her time. That connection with voters, together with her fearlessness, her willingness to speak hard truths, and pledge to shake up the Labor party and rebuild it, is what we need from people who wish to lead this country.
Stav Shaffir will have her day, I am sure. She did not win this time, but she will go on fighting. We need to listen to her, and to other young people like her. They have the passion, the commitment, to march in the streets, to risk arrest, to demand action — on the climate crisis, on institutionalized racism, on the callous detention of migrants and minors on the US border. Not that we, an older generation, can abrogate our responsibility to protest injustice. But it is the younger generation who will, in the future, save us from the chaos in which we are mired.