Making sure your political causes and concerns don't go unnoticed

By Robert Sarner, Canadian Jewish News, Aug. 24, 2000

JERUSALEM - Try as you may, there's no escaping politics in Israel. Even getting in your car and going for a drive inevitably brings you up against the country's intense political reality. Literally. More often than not, the car in front of you is sporting any number of topical stickers reminding you of the state of the nation.

Not for the Promised Land bumper stickers with vulgar puns, corny jokes, commercial slogans and logos for sports teams and tourist sites like in most countries. In Israel, we like dressing up our automobiles with the issues of the day. We like to display our ideology, loud and clear.

For a crash course in public sentiment, visit any large parking lot in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa in the middle of the day and look at the cars' backsides. Don't expect too many nuanced viewpoints.

Never shy about declaring political opinions verbally, many Israelis - both on the left and right - feel the need to plaster their dearest causes and concerns on their cars. It's not hard to get the message. Opinions confront your eyes with bold letters, broad strokes, emphatic exclamation points and tabloid headlines. Not just on bumpers either, but on any flat service of the car visible to other people.

Most stickers are devoted in some way to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the so-called peace process. The signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 triggered a war of political bumper stickers that still rages to this day. In 1995, there was a temporary lull in right wing messages following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Almost overnight, amid charges that such stickers were part of a general climate of incitement that led to the murder, people removed what was deemed politically incorrect (read anti-Oslo, anti-Rabin, anti-Labour Party) propaganda. Within days of the funeral, a new sticker appeared, reading "Shalom Chaver," repeating the words of US President Bill Clinton in his eulogy to Rabin. For months, it seemed every third car was adorned with that message.

In recent years, the most ubiquitous sticker has been one in defense of keeping the Golan Heights part of Israel. "The people are with the Golan," declares the sticker whose omnipresence has emboldened residents and supporters of the Golan in their struggle.

Other favorites are: "There is a mandate for peace," backing Oslo, while "Nightmarish peace," accompanied by simulated bloody bullet holes from Palestinian terrorists, strongly denounces the peace process. There is a commonly seen sticker for Peace Now that opposes Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip while a slew of other stickers defend them; An undivided Jerusalem, communities in the Jordan Valley and the embattled Jewish enclave in Hebron are all the focus of separate stickers.

Anger over wide-scale haredi draft evasion has spawned the popular "One people, one draft" sticker while arguably the one that attracts the widest consensus calls for the freedom of airman Ron Arad missing in Lebanon since 1986. Shas, Chabad and other religious movements and various star rabbis adorn many stickers no less direct in their pitch than their secular counterparts. In most cases, the slogans do not translate well into English nor into a non-Israeli context.

Election time finds sticker makers working overtime. To be sure, their products even figured prominently in this year's report by State Comptroller Eliezer Goldberg on illegal financial contributions to Prime Minister Ehud Barak's election campaign in 1999. One of the things the money was used for was the printing and distribution of countless thousands of bumper stickers. According to the report, the Barak campaign funneled millions of shekels into illegal nonprofit organizations that paid for signs, surveys and bumper stickers for their candidate.

More recently, during the Camp David talks this summer, the Likud-led opposition disseminated tens of thousands of stickers with the slogan "Peace yes, suckers no" in protest of Barak's readiness to make far-reaching concessions to the Palestinians.

If nothing else, the proliferation of bumper stickers provides a diversion from the insufferable traffic jams that Israelis waste more and more time in every day. Just think of how many political discussions and outright arguments these stickers have triggered among people stuck in their cars on heavily congested roads.

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