Israel’s youngest woman Knesset member, Stav Shaffir, gave a barnstorming presentation at the Ha’aretz London conference on Sunday, unpicking a story of decades of repeated corruption within the national budget and explaining how she had challenged it.
She was one of the leaders of the 2011 social action “tent protest”, which began on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard and spread throughout Israel. Her success brought her to the attention of the Israeli Labour Party and she became an MK, aged just 26.
In 2012, the newest Knesset member joined the Finance Committee and spent time listening “and not saying much”. But when it came to signing off on the national budget, Shaffir began to ask questions.
“The budget is a complete lie. There is no connection between what we vote on and what really happens to our money.” Despite seeing a sum of 17 billion shekels in the budget papers, but with no real explanation of how it was allotted, Shaffir was told “we do this every week, it’s a technical thing”.
A frustrated Shaffir went home “and did what every young person my age would do. I uploaded everything onto Facebook”. And, though it was assumed that nobody was interested in politics or government finance, she was soon deluged with “an army of volunteers” who have painstakingly helped her track what happens to the Israeli taxpayer’s money.
Endless amounts of money, she discovered, was being siphoned off into politicians’ pet causes. By asking repeatedly awkward questions over the last three years, Shaffir has helped gradually change the acceptance of political graft, and today is chair of the newly-established Knesset Transparency Committee. Her mission: “To make politicians accountable”.