Stavit Sinai Israeli Activist Profile

I’m adjusting my scruffy fringe in the camera when Stav joins the Zoom call, she’s sat outside on a patio, glorious blue sky above her head and the sun shining on her long brown hair. “I’m spending the winter in Sardinia,” she tells me. I look out the window at my miserable February English street. I never get to hear anymore about Sardinia; we only have an hour and other than a few words of introduction the rest of our conversation is dominated by stories of activism, arrests and socio-political theory.

Born in Israel into an Eastern-European Jewish family, Dr Stavit Sinai – she normally goes by Stav – completed her BA and MA at the University of Tel Aviv before moving to the picturesque medieval city of Konstanz, on the Swiss border of Germany, to do a PhD in sociology at the city’s university. She now teaches philosophy at Berlin VHS and has published a book titled Sociological knowledge and collective identity: SN Eisenstadt and Israeli society. Dr Sinai is also a pro-Palestine activist and has frequently found herself on the wrong side of the law while pursuing this cause.

Stav first came onto my radar last May when she joined UK based group Palestine Action in an attempted break in of a military drone factory, owned by the multi-billion dollar Israeli defence corporation Elbit Systems. Palestine Action have led a campaign of sabotage, vandalism and destruction against the company, that – Stav claims – is a key part of the Israeli state’s “apartheid regime”. On 10 January 2022 Elbit announced that they would be selling their Oldham factory – where Stav had been – the news of which was celebrated as a huge success by the pro-Palestine movement.

Although her raiding party – “with the intention of smashing everything up with sledgehammers” – didn’t break the perimeter, for Stav it hadn’t been a waste of time: “The effort was not futile because when we got arrested we kind of created mayhem around the neighbourhood… That exerts pressure on the population, nobody wants people arrested and shouting, nobody wants that trouble. I think, indeed, that contributed to the shutting down of that specific factory.” While they may not have been successful that day, Palestine Action had been on many other occasions, causing millions in damages and massive disruption to Elbit’s operations.

“Taking a sledgehammer and smashing machinery”, “getting arrested” and “putting your body on the line” come up a lot during our conversation, Stav says it’s all part of “direct action”, which she believes is the most effective form of protest: “It is an anarchist tactic that is based on non-violence and civil disobedience… if I see harm, if I see evil, if I see a crime against humanity that is being conducted in my front yard I just go and I stop it. It kind of brings agency back to the people, to civil society, and enables us to leave the realm of passivity.”

Particular emphasis is put on getting arrested and twice she jokes about it being a “pleasant experience in Europe,” and that compared to “the Middle East … it’s a piece of cake.” Stav feels that she is using her “privilege”, because for her getting arrested in these situations is “relatively” consequence free. So she sees it as part of her duty and an effective way of achieving political goals: “There have been 36 people who have been arrested from the Oldham factory [actions] and it’s proven very successful.” She’s smiling and laughing while saying this – as she is most of the time.

Stav frequently pauses her flurry of words with “umm” or “so”, trying to think of the perfect phrase. I know that she isn’t coming up with all of these ideas on the spot, and that she will have reiterated these same points countless times, but the pauses – as well as passionate slip ups – gives me the impression that these aren’t rehearsed answers. She isn’t reading from a script.

I ask how her family feel about all of this and if they agree with what she does. Stav stops, sits more up right, and tells me in a strong tone that if she were to speak with them about these things – or at all – they wouldn’t be supportive. She talks about them in abstractions: “They would consider us traitors.”, “They are in support of Israeli technology.”, and then finally says: “They would not approve.” She left Israel 12 years ago and hasn’t been back.

The conversation moving onto this topic is one of the few times that her manner darkens, talking slower, not smiling, but this tonal shift is quickly flipped when she mentions dodging mandatory military service and I ask how: “I told them I was going to kill myself” she says with a grin. A bit taken a back, I awkwardly laugh and say “fair enough”, to which she replies “yes it worked so – fair enough” and then breaks down laughing. With the awkwardness of discussing her family moved past, we talk about more scrapes that she’s gotten into in Germany and the state of the activist community there – she thinks it’s lacking compared to the UK.

We’re interrupted by the postwoman, Stav walks over to her, stood on the other side of a low stone wall, and I can hear them talk in Italian. When she returns I broach the subject of antisemitism: many would – and have – label her as anti-Semitic for calling Israel an imperialist apartheid state waging a genocidal war. She dismisses this, saying that these “smears” and “silly accusations” are a natural part of standing up to institutional power. She then turns it around, bringing up that she has a degree in Jewish studies so understands the history of the Jewish state, that her family survived the holocaust, and that “by assuming that all Jews must take the position that they support Israel, that’s anti-Semitic in itself.”

Just before saying goodbye I ask what the big picture goal is: “So we have taken down one factory, the Oldham factory, it’s a huge success but I think the overall target was to bring every Elbit factory down in the UK and beyond. It’s always been the target and I think the next big thing is just to continue, to bring them down one after another, brick by brick, until they are all gone.”

I’m adjusting my scruffy fringe in the camera when Stav joins the Zoom call, she’s sat outside on a patio, glorious blue sky above her head and the sun shining on her long brown hair. “I’m spending the winter in Sardinia,” she tells me. I look out the window at my miserable February English street.…

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