The family van crawls up a steep hill in central Israel, the engine struggling, the fumes billowing from the exhaust pipe. But rather than hide the rust trap, its owner proudly sticks out his chest and invites the onlookers to read his vehicle. It is amazing that he can see anything out of the rearview mirror, the rear windshield is a mass of political stickers. He apparently backs Israel’s retention of the Golan Heights, buying products from Jewish farmers in Gaza, removing all Arabs from Israel, and there is just about enough room for one saying people are happy when they turn to God.
In a country where there is little accountability to voters on the national political scene, bumper-sticker campaigns are one of the more colorful methods the political extremes have adopted to get their points across. No more so, than regarding the ongoing battle over the Israeli plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip in summer 2005.
However, it was a tragic event that led to the national pastime of pasting stickers across family vehicles.
In 1995, following the assassination of Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. President Bill Clinton delivered a eulogy at his funeral. In it, Clinton said two words in Hebrew: “Shalom, Chaver,” meaning “Goodbye, Friend.” Immediately afterwards, bumper stickers bearing the words ‘Shalom, Chaver’ began to appear on cars all over Israel. As time went on, new stickers appeared, with the Hebrew equivalent of ‘Friend, we miss you’; then ‘Time goes by, we still miss you, friend’; and so on. The murder of Rabin was a shock to Israelis across the political spectrum, but at the time, the bumper stickers were used mainly to gain political leverage for the left wing, which was loyal to Rabin’s philosophy.
As the Gaza withdrawal draws nearer, the battle heats up between those who support it and those who reject it, and so does the use of bumper stickers. “In Israel, people have got used to expressing their views not only over dinner, but also while traveling in their cars,” said the spokesman of Peace Now, Yariv Openheimer. “It has become a way of showing solidarity and support, or to show that you are against something. I think it is because the Israeli public is very involved in the political process.”
Spokeswoman of the Yesha Council (the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District), Emili Amarusi, holds a different view with regard to the widespread use of bumper stickers in Israel: “Maybe it is because in Israel the car is considered a status symbol…It gives people a good feeling to know that their car represents something. That is why, if your car represents your political views, which you are proud of, this can also be a way for people to speak their minds.”
Perhaps the most obvious reason for the use of bumper stickers is the one The Media Line heard from the Kav Meshi printing house. “It is one of the cheapest and quickest ways to advertise. It also creates media buzz and attention which cannot always be achieved in other ways,” said the printing house’s sales manager Sara Shamir.
‘When the situation is s***, you have to go. Peace Now’
So it is cheap, and it creates a media buzz. But is it really a convincing way to influence people? According to the spokespeople from both the right and left, the answer is affirmative. “Anyone working in the advertising business would tell you that a good message is one which consists of only a few words,” said Amarusi. She then gives the example of the ‘Let the people decide’ bumper sticker. “Everyone can identify with this call…And we find that even people who are not affiliated with the right wing are using this bumper sticker.”
A catchy slogan used by Peace Now, reads ‘Evacuation of the settlements – A choice in life.’ “It defines our wish to leave the [Palestinian] territories – not because we hate settlers or because we love Arabs – but because we want to save lives,” explained Openheimer. The right wing, for its part, came up with the slogan ‘Evacuating the settlements – a victory for terror.’ So when composing these slogans, it seems that the copywriters are also attuned and responding to the other side.
Election campaigns are usually the most profitable times for printing houses which manufacture bumper stickers. “In the weeks preceding elections, the quantities of bumper stickers seen on cars and road signs at intersections are huge,” said Shamir.
According to Shamir, people are often influenced by the sheer quantity of ads and bumper stickers they see. “The more you see of them, the more you are influenced, especially when a person still has not made up his mind.”
What truly epitomizes this Israeli phenomenon is The Sticker Song. This popular rap song has turned 54 bumper sticker slogans such as ‘No Arabs, no terror,’ and ‘A strong people makes peace,’ into rhyming lyrics. It was played repeatedly by Israeli radio stations in 2004. It was written by leftist author David Grossman and performed by Israel’s top rap band.
Politics permeates every aspect of Israeli life, from the decision as to which youth club your children should attend, through the basketball team you back and sometimes even to the town in which you choose to live.
It is all summed up in Grossman’s lyrics and in the family van that has still to make it to the top of the hill. The driver of the van is still smiling as he puts the van back down into first gear. If for no other reason, perhaps he collects the stickers to cover over his vehicle’s rust.