“Hatikvah” of Stav Shaffir

Stav Shaffir, Israel's youngest member of the Knesset.

Often, when I see an article about Israel in a magazine or a newspaper, a gnawing sense of despair wells up in my chest. As the country’s political and class conflicts seems to stagnate and worsen, I have found it easier to avoid such news altogether. I don’t like feeling that way. I hate feeling that way. Though I may not always agree with the actions of the state, I am invested in Israel and want her to succeed and thrive. But as I grow older and more aware, my cynicism often diminishes my capacity for hope.

And then, just like that Stav Shaffir entered my life and made me want to think differently. At 29, Shaffir, of the left-of-center Labor Party, is the youngest member of the Knesset (Israel’s parliamentary body) and the youngest woman to ever serve in Israel’s government. A journalist during her time in the Israel Defense Forces, Shaffir, nicknamed gingit (ginger) by her colleagues due to her striking red hair, first gained prominence while helping to lead the 2011 Israeli social protests. The protests were a stand against Israel’s high cost of living, government corruption, and rising poverty figures, stances Shaffir has not abandoned now that she is a politician.

In the past few months, a video of Shaffir delivering an address to the Knesset has gone viral, and for good reason. In that video, the fiery Shaffir does not hold back as she rails against the corruption of the right-wing politicians who have taken the Israeli public’s tax money, and given it to friends in the West Bank settlements, private organizations (NGO’s), and rightist activists—but not the struggling Israeli workers, cities, schools, and hospitals who need it. “Don’t preach to us about Zionism,” she said, addressing the guilty parties, “because real Zionism means dividing the budget equally among all the citizens of the country. Real Zionism is taking care of the weak. Real Zionism is solidarity, not only in battle but in everyday life. . . . You forgot Israel. You lost Zionism a long time ago.”

There are notable female figures in Israeli politics—Golda Meir, Shulamit Aloni, and Tzipi Livni come to mind—but none have ever inspired me like Shaffir. Stav Shaffir stands for the Zionism I was taught, the Zionism I recognize, and the Zionism I believe in. She dares to speak out against those who are tearing that dream down and building cowardice and corruption in its place under the guise of “security.” Most often in the news, Israel is discussed in the context of its ongoing conflicts with Palestine or Iran, and rarely, if ever, are its regular citizens represented. My understanding of Israel’s past and present is constantly deepening. Though I consider myself a leftist when it comes to the politics of Israel, the inspiration I get from Shaffir goes beyond her official political affiliation. If I could sit down with Shaffir, I would say thank you. Thank you for speaking up for a downtrodden portion of Israeli society that seems to get lost among the bluster of politicians and the circus that is international media. Out of all the things you had considered doing in your life—from being an astronaut to a journalist to an activist—thank you for plunging into government to work for change from the inside. You are restoring my tikvah—my hope.

In an interview with Newsweek, Shaffir spoke of how many of her “Israeli friends, both here and those who lived abroad, did not believe there was a chance to make real change. . . . This is very not Israeli. There is something about being an Israeli. There is a story in what Israel is and what Zionism is—that we don’t give up.”

I am decidedly not Israeli, in either family background or the grit, brashness, and remarkable tenacity so often attributed to the people of Israel. But if a woman like Stav Shaffir is not giving up on Israel, than I won’t either. I could be Israeli for that.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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How to cite this page

Bayroff, ELiza. "“Hatikvah” of Stav Shaffir." 10 March 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 29, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/hatikvah-of-stav-shaffir>.

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