By Ken StoneIsraelis should reject their government’s “politics of fear,” the youngest woman ever elected to the Jewish state’s parliament told a San Diego audience Tuesday — arguing that peace with the Palestinians could bring economic manna.
“I want people to know what kinds of offers we get — especially from the [European Union] — for what will happen when we sign an agreement,” Knesset member Stav Shaffir told 200 people at Temple Emanu-El in Del Cerro.
“Most Israelis have no awareness that the EU offered Israel and the future Palestine a part membership in the EU,” she told visitors (including four local rabbis) to the Reform Jewish synagogue.
A former journalist who became a protest movement hero, the leftist Shaffir was elected to the Knesset at age 27.
Now 30, and a guest in America of the J Street lobbying group (the American Jewish left’s answer to the right-wing AIPAC), Shaffir said “I believe you have a black president today because of hope politics. It can be so much more effective if you use it right.”
- Related: MK Shaffir: Israel secretly diverts money to West Bank (San Diego Jewish World)
Shaffir told her life story for a half-hour and then answered questions on Israeli politics for an added 50 minutes. Although one questioner sought advice on how American Jews could help her leftist cause — dismantling the West Bank settlements, for example — Shaffir didn’t address the U.S. elections.
But asked afterward who might be the best presidential candidate to support her Zionist Union party’s agenda, she told Times of San Diego: “I come from an ideological party, and the answer is quite clear.”
She wouldn’t name that candidate, however, saying: “I don’t think that [Israeli] politicians need to get involved in American elections. … I can see perfectly who is a long-term supporter of Israel and who is [dramatizing] things for the elections.”
Shaffir called it a mistake for Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu to speak to Congress in March 2015 in opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.
Pressed to comment on the prospect of a first Jewish president [Bernie Sanders], Shaffir said: “It’s yours to choose. I’m not going to make a selection for Americans.”
Shaffir was far less shy in her temple comments, however, saying that while the right-wing regime feeds Israelis with fear, “we have to give them the bright and realistic picture of what can happen when we can make a step forward.”
The leader of a new Knesset Transparency Committee, Shaffir had famously exposed corruption by merely asking to look at previous budgets rather than accept money transfer requests with no explanation.
She said she was the youngest member of the Finance Committee — by 25 years — when she asked questions about 11 billion shekels (nearly $3 billion) being moved from one account to another.
“Are we really supposed to vote on that?” she recalls asking in an Emperor-Has-No-Clothes moment. “Does anyone really know what’s going on?”
She said it was routine for that committee to approve transfers without a full understanding. She called it “dramatically illogical.”
Uploading national financial documents onto Facebook, she got help in discovering that 15 percent to 20 percent of the national budget went to political purposes — including money going to settlement builders.
Six million shekels, she found, went to nonexistent NGOs — nongovernmental organizations — for “spiritual support abroad.” (She was told the actual names were a “matter of privacy.”)
The “money was bribery really,” Shaffir said.
She faulted the Netanyahu government for not following through on 20 years of promises, saying “the most radical right-wing government we’ve ever had” could simply have annexed the West Bank to Israel had it wanted to.
Instead, his Likud regime dragged its feet on peace efforts, she said, “just standing there and waiting for things to happen.”
She said polls have shown that 60 percent of Israelis back a two-state solution (and not annexation).
Part Iraqi (her grandmother spoke Arabic), Shaffir said Zionism — the movement that led to the 1948 creation of a Jewish homeland — required action.
“If [David] Ben-Gurion and the founding fathers and mothers of Israel just stood there waiting for Israel to happen, this [nation] would not exist,” she said. “We can’t continue with that strategy.”
Shaffir says she’d like to see a full PR campaign, and public protests in Israel and Palestine, to pressure Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to sign a deal.
“This is the map [noting pre-1967 war borders]. This is what we want. This is what we agreed to,” she said.
Her ideas for change aren’t limited to a peace deal. She says she’d like the Knesset to adopt the British tradition of “question time” for the prime minister — an hour every month when lawmakers could directly challenge Netanyahu.
Shaffir was scheduled to speak in Los Angeles on Wednesday and San Francisco later this week before addressing J Street’s national assembly this weekend in Washington, D.C.
Vice President Joe Biden will speak at J Street’s gala on Monday, according to news reports.
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