Analysis

How the Star of Israeli Left-winger Stav Shaffir Burned Out

She started out as a promising new face in Labor and snagged the second spot on Democratic Union's slate. But now that the left has merged, Stav is left out of the game

MK Stav Shaffir in 2019. Was dubbed a rising star twice over the past decade.
Meged Gozani

Stav Shaffir will apparently pay a price for the left-wing alliance between Labor-Gesher and Meretz before the March 2 election. The way things look, her chances of making it into the next Knesset are slim. Officially, both parties say they haven’t slammed the door on her and she can still take part in the link-up, but behind the scenes large camps on both sides seem to want her out.

But Shaffir’s deteriorating status in Meretz isn’t the result of the electoral alliance. Its roots are deeper.

Twice over the past decade, Shaffir was dubbed a rising star. The first time was after the social justice protests of 2011. Shaffir, a key figure in the demonstrations, quickly integrated into politics. By 2012 she was a member of the Labor Party, and in the primary before the 2013 election, she took ninth place.

Stav Shaffir, center, during the social justice protests of 2011. Shaffir, a key figure in the demonstrations, quickly integrated into politics.
Daniel Bar-On

In the Knesset, Shaffir harnessed the popularity she had won on social media to advance the Labor Party and connect it to younger people. She also stood out in parliament, especially after she was named head of a committee that sought transparency in the Knesset. She reached the height of her powers in Labor’s leadership primary last year, when she came in second after Amir Peretz, beating another social justice veteran, Itzik Shmuli, into third place.

But Shaffir didn’t enjoy that accomplishment for long. After Peretz refused to form a left-wing alliance, Shaffir, who was preaching such a move, left Labor and joined the Democratic Union, whose main component was Meretz. That was the second time she showed great promise, when she received the second spot on the slate that was headed by Nitzan Horowitz and included former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Shaffir became the glue that facilitated the union between Meretz and Barak’s Democratic Israel party.

But this link-up, which was launched with great fanfare, ended up a failure, capturing only five seats in the September election. If you subtract Shaffir and a retired general, Yair Golan, Meretz ended up with only three seats.

Shaffir’s failure to attract voters was noted. According to Meretz’s research, the young MK didn’t manage to translate her popularity into political support. This fact also played into the hands of senior Meretz members who sought to return party stalwarts like Tamar Zandberg and Esawi Freige to top spots on the slate.

But two other factors were behind Shaffir’s political collapse. Some people in Labor sought to settle accounts with her for deserting the party before the last election. Peretz himself made clear that he didn’t want to deal with her. Behind the scenes other senior Labor members said that while they wouldn’t tell Meretz who to put on its ticket, Shaffir would be best left out.

MK Stav Shaffir during a budget discussion at the Knesset's Finance Committee.
Olivier Fitoussi

Another problem was Shaffir’s arguments and confrontations with Meretz and Labor MKs that alienated even her supporters. “The truth is, Stav is a tough person who isn’t pleasant to work with,” a senior figure in Meretz said. “Dealing with her has been full of friction since the last election, and no one wants to continue that for four more years.” Another source added: “Stav argued with Horowitz, she argued with Zandberg, and she had a list of problematic demands.”

This joins comments by other senior party members who in recent weeks said they had heard she demanded to be co-head of the party with Horowitz, to take control of Meretz’s digital platforms, including its Facebook and Twitter accounts, and to be made a minister if the party joined a governing coalition. It should be noted that Shaffir categorically denies all this.

Whatever the truth, the young MK who was once the great young hope of the left finds her political career on the ropes. It remains to be seen if she can find a way to make a comeback.