Knesset members Shulamit Aloni and Shav Shaffir might be separated by two generations, but in their beliefs about citizen participation in government, they’re on the same page. Shulamit Aloni dedicated her career—from hosting a radio program about the law to running a legal aid office—to educating Israeli citizens about their rights. Stav Shaffir has focused on budget transparency, making the government literally accountable to the people for its spending. Although Shulamit Aloni retired long before Stav Shaffir came of age, these two political powerhouses have both helped give ordinary Israelis a voice.
Shulamit Aloni literally wrote the book on Israeli citizenship.
Her textbook, The Citizen and His Country, was published in 1958 and quickly became the standard text for Israeli secondary schools. The year before, she had founded a radio program on citizen’s rights, Outside Office Hours. All of this is even more impressive when you consider that Aloni, a former schoolteacher, had only earned her law degree from Hebrew University in 1955.
Ten years later, in 1965, Aloni was elected to the Knesset as a member of the Labor Party and began lobbying to create a constitution for Israel guaranteeing basic human rights. She also began hosting another radio show, specifically for women, called Know the Law, and wrote columns for both a major daily newspaper and a popular women’s magazine. In the Knesset, she advocated for ordinary people, but through her work in popular media, she taught the people how to advocate for themselves.
After clashing with fellow party members for four years, she was dropped from the party ticket in 1969. Undeterred, she founded the Bureau for Civil Rights to offer legal aid to citizens, and returned to the Knesset in 1973 as head of the newly created Ratz Party (renamed Meretz in 1992), dedicated to civil rights and peace. She led the Party until her retirement in 1996, championing the rights of women, the handicapped, migrant workers, and LGBT citizens.
Even after her retirement, she continued to advocate and educate, working for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, human rights, and an Israeli Bill of Rights. She taught at universities in Israel and the United States. In 2000 she was recognized for her years of dedicated public service with the Israel Prize, her country’s highest honor. By the time of her death in 2014, she had helped shape her country in profound ways and impacted the lives of three generations of Israelis.
It might sound crazy to decide that the best way to transform your country is by tackling its annual budget, but for Stav Shaffir, it made total sense.
The daughter of two accountants, Stav Shaffir spent her army service as a military journalist before going to study journalism through the Olive Tree Scholarship Programme for Israeli and Palestinian future leaders, at City University in London. While there, she interned at the British Parliament, getting a taste of politics.
After earning her BA in 2009, she returned to study at Tel Aviv University and to work as a freelance journalist. Two years later, she helped run the 2011 Israeli social justice protests, organizing tent cities and using her journalism experience to act as spokesperson for the mass of economically struggling and politically disenfranchised Israelis. In 2013, at age 27, she became the youngest-ever woman elected to the Knesset. She immediately joined the Finance Committee, where she saw people rubber-stamping changes to the previously agreed-upon budget. She recruited 120 volunteers to comb through documents looking for discrepancies, and found that 13% of the budget, amounting to over 40 billion shekels, was getting reallocated to special interest groups and other organizations. Shaffir’s work has led to public outcry for government accountability, and she has continued to speak out about this and other economic issues, lobbying for rent stabilization in 2014 after prices skyrocketed. Several of her powerful speeches have gone viral over social media. And she has used her power as an elected official to effect other kinds of change as well, praying with Women of the Wall so that her presence can help ensure they are not arrested for causing a public disturbance.
While she has only been a member of the Knesset for a brief time, Stav Shaffir has said that she’s in this for the long haul. Above all, she wants to ensure that ordinary citizens understand what the government is doing and can advocate effectively for themselves. Shulamit Aloni would approve.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Israeli Politicians ." (Viewed on January 24, 2021) <https://jwa.org/powercouples/aloni-shaffir>.