A Labor MK Feels at Home at the J Street Conference
A Labor MK Feels at Home at the J Street Conference

Stav Shaffir (Hebrew: סתיו שפיר‎, born 17 May 1985) is the youngest IsraeliKnesset member and leader  and spokesperson of the 2011 Israeli social justice protests. The writer interviewed her at the recent J Street Conference in Washington. Israeli MK participation at the conference received much criticism in Israel.

Promoting social justice and reaching an agreement with the Palestinian Arabs, 28 year old Labor MK Stav Shaffir felt very much at home at the J-Street Conference in Washington on Sunday among the approximately 2,800 activists who joined together as part of the self described “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace” lobbyist group.

Shaffir resonated with the young activists promoting the need to connect Israeli’s passion on socio-economic issues with the peace process. Condemning Israeli Prime Minister’s response to Iran’s change in policy, Shaffir exclaimed that Netanyahu was just “playing games.” In a wide ranging interview, Shaffir discussed her response to Iranian President Rouhani’s overtures to the west, diplomacy with the Palestinians, and the African refugee situation.

What do you think is the appropriate response to Iranian President?

We need to investigate every mean that is not violent to end this conflict. At the same time, we need to be very careful. There are negotiations only if Iranians are taking serious steps stopping their work on nuclear proliferation if they to prove they are serious on the issue.

Do you think it was right for Prime Minister Netanyahu to tell the Israeli delegation to walk out of the United Nations when the Iranian President spoke?

Playing games. I believe in talking and action not just playing games.

If you were the Israeli PM what would you do after Rouhani Tweeted Happy Rosh Hashanah to world Jewry and released political prisoners?

We need to use the space that we were given to start negotiations to ask the right questions and put the right demands on the table. We have to make sure that we are not wasting time while violent actions are being made. It is not like we can delete decades of violence by the Iranian Presidency. We need to be very careful. Of course I support negotiations before we go in for an attack.

What is your response to the recent Supreme Court ruling on African Refugees?

The court’s decision was incredible. It was guarding Israel’s morality putting Israel in the right spot reminding Israeli government of  its own values.. At the same time, the court’s decision is just one thing, but the serious fact is that we are are not dealing with this situation. Israel has no policy with asylum. Israel never defined how many people it can accept. It has never started the interviews to check who is a really deserves refugee status and who is a work migrant.

What should Israel do with the approximately 50,000 [illegal, ed.] African migrants in Israel right now?

It must start immediately, yesterday or 5 years ago, to start a system (miun) like every western country is supposed to do see all of the requests to interview them to put them in different areas in Israel and allow them to work instead of bringing in so many foreign workers. We are a country based on refugees. My grandmother escaped from Iraq and my grandfather escaped during the Holocaust. It is a country that knows what it means to escape with your life It is our responsibility first of all to make sure that we know who really needs our help. We can’t help everybody. There is a limited capacity. We have to first define the capacity. Can we get 2,000 here or 1,000 here?

Are you opposed to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s wall between Israel/Egypt?

I think it is very important to have it. I think it is very important to have a clear border. For those who manage to get in, they are in your hands. You have to do whatever you can to help them. For those who are still in Israel put them in different areas not all concentrated in one neighborhood there are many things that we can do.

When would you and Labor Party join the government? After peace agreements reached?

This is a right wing coalition. We were not chosen to form coalition. Unfortunately, there is a right wing government. We are supposed to create an alternative

What if Bennett (religious Zionist Jewish Home leader,ed.)leaves the government?

That will never happen. There is a really beautiful Begin speech. In that speech he defined the role of the opposition. I think people forgot what the role of the opposition is. The opposition needs to be there to watch the government to guard the government’s policies and show a constant alternative to what is being done. If the Labor Party wants to rule one day, now is our time to prove what kind of alternative we can be.

I think that the Arab League offering is a great starting point today. We are talking about pre-1967 borders with switching territories around the big settlement blocs and yes, it talks about Eastern Jerusalem for the Palestinians.
Do you think it was a mistake how the Labor ran its campaign with such a focus on socio-economic issues and minimizing the peace process?

It is a mistake to separate the two issues. That is a mistake that we have been doing in Israel for too many years. To separate social justice and peace as if they are two different things: they are not. The condition of the Israeli democracy depends on Israeli education system. You teach citizenship, democracy to be critical and they will be educated to become educated citizenship. When the educational system is corrupt or when it is not working or disabled by the people who were supposed to guide it because you don’t train people for democracy. How can you separate social justice and peace? Social services and the condition of our society is strongly linked to our ability to reach an agreement and make compromise.

Do you think that Jerusalem should be divided in a final status agreement?

I think that the Arab League offering is a great starting point today. We are talking about pre-1967 borders with switching territories around the big settlement blocs and yes, it talks about Eastern Jerusalem for the Palestinians.

Do you plan on running for the head of Labor in the near future? President Obama also became the leader of his party shortly after entering Congress

I have been 6 months in politics. Let me first be able to put all of my energy making the protest movement and the social justice system within the Labor party and Israeli political system.