One of the featured speakers at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington last weekend was Israeli leftist Stav Shaffir, a 32-year-old Labor member of Knesset who burst to fame during the famous tent protests in Tel Aviv in 2011. Shaffir is also a regular at J Street, the liberal Zionist organization, because she is trying to save the two-state solution.
Shaffir made an urgent appeal for the two-state solution at AIPAC on Monday (video here). But many of Shaffir’s arguments are similar to rightwing nationalist arguments based on ethnic interests– ideas usually disturbing to American liberals. (For instance, just yesterday, Yascha Mounck of Harvard on the dangers of ethnic populism).
Here are some of Shaffir’s passionate comments at AIPAC: in favor of a Jewish majority, of separation of Jews and Palestinians, and of Israeli militarism and Donald Trump.
On the need to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel with the support of the army and the U.S.:
The Israeli Palestinian conflict is one big challenge that actually is probably the easiest one to solve among the other security challenges that we have and the one that is most important in order to keep Israel Jewish and democratic, with a Jewish majority. For these challenges we will need not only our very strong army and security system, we will need the support of the global community and here in the States, the support and the backup of the United States in the decisions that we will make and in the steps that we will have to take forward, and here I feel today we are in a very good situation.
Shaffir praised Trump.
We appreciate very much the care and the friendship with the U.S. and with the current administration and the care for Israel at present and in the future.
She celebrated his decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem. Notice her very Jewish definition of Israeli society (which is 20 percent non-Jewish):
The embassy move is something that every Israeli is happy about. There is no left and right distinction on that. For us, Jerusalem is our capital– it’s not something that is in doubt, it’s just a fact. And we’re very happy about the embassy move. I would like to see that as part of a strategy to reach a solution with the Palestinians. This is a must. This is not a time to be naive or passive.
She extolled the two-state solution as a separation of Jews and Palestinians, and faulted the idea of equality between Jews and Palestinians.
Today 99 percent of our security establishment supports and promotes the two-state solution. Literally everybody who understands security understands that we need to have a clear border between us and the Palestinians. Everybody who understands our national and social and security needs knows that we don’t need almost 3 million Palestinians to become part of Israel, a situation that will cause a civil war, two peoples in fear, trauma and distrust toward each other, who are just going to bleed into each other for decades to come, and for Israel to need to choose between being a democracy equal to all of our citizens, to being Jewish. This is not something we can afford.
But young American progressives are falling for the Palestinian “narrative,” and that’s “a danger.”
I come here to the States to talk to young people in the universities, and I feel that the direction that many young people, Jews and non Jews alike, are taking and the perception that they have about Israel is a very different perception to what Israelis want to have about ourselves. The distancing that young people here feel that Israel is taking from their values is something that is a great risk to our strategic interests and to our future.
And the other part of it that is at risk is the bipartisan character of the support of Israel here in the States. When I look at the latest Pew Poll, that shows that amongst Democrats the perception of Israel is becoming less and less positive, and in some areas you even see a greater link and identification with the Palestinian narrative, that’s a danger to our future. In ten, fifteen years time, these people who are now in universities are going to sit in very influential positions. We need them to be with us. We need them to understand our security interests. We need them to promote together with us solutions to the challenges that we have, we just can’t wait for that to arrive…
Shaffir praised her rightwing host, AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (whose new president supports settlements), for actively planning for the future, and countering the Palestinian “campaign.”
I see AIPAC is working on that very well currently. We all need to be part of this campaign… Today we see a lot of campaigns coming from the Palestinians. We don’t see enough campaigns coming from the Israeli side.
She attacked the rightwing elements of Israeli leadership for wanting to annex the West Bank, which would bring millions of Palestinians into Israel. She characterized Palestinians as Israeli “enemies” and said Israel must deal with the Palestinians leadership.
I don’t trust the Palestinians to [be] that perfect partner… [She cites the Palestinian intifadas] These are our enemies… Yes we have a very strong military and ability to protect ourselves. But still this is our reality. I don’t want us to wait and to rely on the Palestinians in order to have a future for ourselves. They have a different interest. By the way for them– time is actually serving them. Time is actually serving their interest in having a Palestinian majority between the Jordan River and the Sea. This is not a risk that we can take.
She attacked the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) that targets Israel and said the best response to BDS is an American campaign to call on Palestinians to negotiate for a two-state solution. If there is no two-state solution, there will be a Palestinian majority– “and that will be the end of things.”
There are a lot of young people here who for some reason are mistaken to think that working with BDS or supporting boycott of Israel is somehow effective and productive for the two-state solution. That’s a huge mistake. Those who support the BDS are actually contributing to moving Israelis farther to the right, to making Israelis distrustful of the global community, to encouraging that feeling of Israelis that the world doesn’t understand our security interests…. That’s a big mistake because it’s not promoting the two state solution. That’s actually promoting just a continuation of just things as they are, that will eventually lead to a Palestinian majority, and that will be the end of things. We cannot let that happen.
She slammed the Iran deal (even as she said it should not be nullified), and spoke of the Iranian threat:
Iran is needless to say a major threat and a real one, one that in order to overcome we have to work together. This is not for one country to overcome alone. Israel with all of our military capabilities. We need the cooperation of the US as the leader of the global community to put more sanctions on Iran and especially on Iranian involvement with terrorism. Iran today is the Number one investor in terrorism globally. We need the ability to create a much stronger deal. The current deal with Iran is far from being a perfect deal, it’s not a great deal.
The obvious takeaway from Shaffir’s remarks is that Israeli Jewish society is far more rightwing than the U.S. press informs us, everyone there likes Trump; and this leftwing darling has far more in common with rightwing Zionists than American liberals. This was much the same point that alt-right leader Richard Spencer made in his dialogue with a liberal Jewish rabbi, when he said, We want white Zionism in the U.S.!
(P.S. I don’t argue that getting to a one-state democratic outcome will be a walk in the park. There is wisdom in Shaffir’s projections; there will be a lot of violence in any outcome. The problem is that no liberal Zionist can offer any real scenario of getting to the two-state solution — Shaffir’s own prescription is to keep the two-state solution on ice and not increase the number of settlements, in anticipation of the day it will be effected, 20 years from now, or who knows when. And meantime Palestinians are living a one-state reality, without rights, for 50 years; which is why Henry Siegman and Avraham Burg have called as realists for equal rights for Palestinians.)