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Monday, March 14, 2005

Affixing a position

One of the many things that have become crystal clear to me since we moved here is that Israelis have no problem wearing their politics on their sleeves… and on their cars.

Gil wrote a wonderful piece about how the anti-disengagement crowd seems to have cornered the market on the color orange. In fact, so much so that anyone who is not firmly in that political camp has by now discarded any clothing with even an accent in that particular day-glo hue.

Because I do so much driving every day, I get to absorb a lot of political ideology in the easily-digestible form of bumper stickers.

I’m not talking about the funny ones we used to point out in the states, like:

"My karma ran over your dogma"

"My kid just beat up your honor student"

"I love animals (they taste great!)"

"Nuke the gay whales!"

"Horn broken… watch for finger"

"Honk if you’ve never seen a pistol fired from a car"

"Visualize using your turn signal!"

"Guns don’t kill people… postal workers kill people"

"Jesus Saves… he shoots… HE SCORES!"

I’m sure you have your own favorites (feel free to share).

No, living in ‘the territories’ the overwhelming majority of ‘bumper lectures’ I see tend to express right wing sentiments:

"The nation is WITH the Golan"

"The nation is WITH Gush Katif"

"Oslo criminals to justice"

"This is not ‘Shalom’, friend"

"Hevron… now and forever"

"We want a different peace"

You get the idea… I’m sure you’ve seen many more of this kind.

Obviously, whenever I go to Tel Aviv I see more of the vehicle signage from the other side of the spectrum:

"Peace is a greater ‘Height’"

"Seek peace and pursue it"

"Peace Now"

"We are the majority"

"Disengagement Now"

As with the right wing stickers… there are countless other left wing ones.

For the longest time I wondered where all these bumper stickers came from since I hadn’t seen many actually being sold in stores. Then I started noticing that during periods of intense national debate, teenagers would magically appear at intersections dressed in tee-shirts bearing political slogans, and offering matching bumper stickers to motorists stopped at the red lights. Needless to say, the message on the stickers would vary widely based, for instance, upon whether the intersection was closer to Ramat Gan or Kiryat Arba.

On several occasions I wasn’t fast enough (or perhaps not forceful enough), with my ‘no’, and I ended up having to pull over a few blocks away to disengage the latest missive from my bumper or rear window.

My only firm policy about politics is not allowing political bumper stickers on our car.

Not too long ago a catchy song by HaDag Nahash called ‘Shir HaSticker’ came out which gave a very amusing portrayal of the Israeli propensity for crystallizing political / religious ideology into terse sound bites and catchy bumper sticker slogans. Not only was it a wonderful song… but it also (hopefully) made a few people realize how silly and dogmatic they really sound (OK, probably not).

Personally, I don’t worry about silly, though.  I worry about the real dangers presented by this oversimplified form of expression.

First of all, it leaves people who are closer to the center and those who don't like to be pigeonholed (like me) without a voice in the public debate.

In my humble opinion, the last thing you want to do is make the centrists (i.e. the more reasonable segment of the society) feel they are disenfranchised and therefore should not participate in the political process.

And more importantly, by fixing a firm position on their cars, both right- and left-wingers are making a public statement that they are no longer able or willing to be swayed, no matter how compelling the argument or what new facts / opportunities may come to light.

This last seems startlingly un-Israeli to me.

Israelis have historically been masters of tactical thinking. Israeli military (and political) doctrine has always been about staying mobile… ‘Hit and move’… ‘Never dig in’… ‘Do the unexpected’… ‘If something isn’t working, try something new!

The old joke goes, "Israelis have the uncanny ability to get themselves out of difficult situations that any other nation would have the good sense not to get themselves into in the first place". The kernel of truth behind this joke speaks directly to the pragmatic gift for improvisation and tactical thinking that has always served Israel (and Israelis) so well.

However, by anchoring themselves to one-line policy statements on the back of their cars, an enormous chunk of the Israeli population seems to have inexplicably decided to ‘dig in’. They have chosen static WWI-era trench warfare and immobile WWII-era fox holes over the option to employ their historical gifts for tactical/creative problem solving.

[sigh]

I miss the days when the most common sticker you were bound to see (no matter where in Israel you lived) was the one stuck on the panel behind the driver’s seat on every Egged bus that read, "Love your neighbor as yourself".

221_5

Posted by David Bogner on March 14, 2005 | Permalink

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Affixing a position:

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Wouldn't it be nice if we could get past the sloganeering?

David, this is a wonderful, humanistic, thoughtful post. I enjoyed it immensely, and agree with every word.

Posted by: Lisa | Mar 14, 2005 1:47:02 PM

I think the classic example of how some of these bumper stickers show how people get stuck in their positions is when they relate to issues or people that are no longer relevant. You see people with stickers against Barak, or for Bibi.

I personally prefer more general, and positive stickers. We still have "HaTzionut TeNatzeach" (Zionism will prevail).

When we lived in the States, we got a nice sticker that said in Hebrew "Achdut Yisrael" (Jewish Unity). Only people who knew Hebrew understood it, but it still felt good. Then before we made aliya we gave our car to the incoming shlichim, and they dropped the sticker because they were afraid of antisemtism...

Posted by: Dave | Mar 14, 2005 2:28:47 PM

For a number of years life has felt to me like people wanted me to pick a position on the left or the right as if they were the only two places that a person can occupy.

In my office there is a semi-famous story of a blow-out fight I had with someone because I hold positions that are considered liberal and conservative with the message being that I am a fence-sitter.

From conversations with friends and relatives in other countries it seems to be something that is a universal experience. I am not sure if there is any truth to that or if it is just us but it is uncomfortable.

When we paint ourselves into corners we end up with problems that could have been avoided. Easy for me to say, harder for us to prevent.

I suspect that some of this comes from the modern age in which websites, IM and cellphones make communication instant and global.

Posted by: Jack | Mar 14, 2005 5:34:07 PM

If entrenched dogma is part of the problem, how much worse so on the Arab side? At least the entrenched Israelis on both sides can stake out ground as far as they want on either extreme and remain in a more-or-less civil societal fabric. I'll be expecting peace as soon as any of these bumper stickers appear in Arabic:

"Some Jews are nice"
"My honor student doesn't suicide bomb"
"You will not murder"
"My other car is an IDF tank"
"Hamas members do it with camels"
"Jihad is not the answer"
"Make humus, not war"

I'm sure some Arabs have these sentiments, but they can't advertise them. Until then we should all obey one of my favorite bumper stickers:

"Visualize Whirled Peas"

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Mar 14, 2005 7:45:32 PM

Maybe I've rushed through the post too fast (ahem), but I miss the Lubavitcher sticker. Hey, with so many people reading your blog, the true solution to it all. Make sure you post pronounciation instructions. ;)

I actually always liked "Eschew Obfuscation"...

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Mar 14, 2005 8:07:44 PM

I both agreed and disagree with Jack. I don't think the problem is labels. Labels make it easy to figure out to whom you are talking and to stake out common ground. I, for example am a rabidly conservative Republican Modern-Orthodox Jew married to clearly one of the funnier men around. However, where we all agree, I think, is that my nuanced positions aren't readily stated on a bumper sticker. Most well-though-out positions don't lend themselves to being stated in one line read at 65mph.

Posted by: ball-and-chain | Mar 14, 2005 9:23:16 PM

Labels make it easy to figure out to whom you are talking and to stake out common ground.

I can agree to a point. Labels present a starting point, but even then there can be a wide divergence in beliefs and opinions.

I have friends who are MO who have television sets and friends who do not. The friends who do not think of the others as being more "Conservadox" than anything else while their counterparts see them as being too far to the right to be MO.

But where I am really going with this is that I think that many people want to push for us to be a part of one group or another. There is an attempt to eliminate the middle because they find those of us who pick and choose to be problematic.

I have Republican and Democrat POVs, there is no one party that I find to be a comfortable fit.

All I know is that from my home in the beautiful San Fernando Valley it feels like people are not interested in dialogue or choice. There is a my way or the highway mentality.

Posted by: Jack | Mar 14, 2005 9:53:55 PM

Lisa... SHHHHHHHH! Don't use words like humanistic and thoughtful! They're liable to take away my settler card! :-)

Dave... I think maybe you are seeing outdated bumper stickers in your neighborhood because the cars are just older over there in the Zayit. (kidding!) Actually, I've been quite surprised by how even a car with a gazillion bumper stickers on it will still be attempting to convey a fairly single-minded message rather than a range of ideas. I think you know the cars I'm talking about.

Jack... I would have thought just the opposite; that with the instant access to information people would be more able /willing to change their world view based on the most current information. Instead it almost seems as though people take pride in their views despite how those views may clash with the facts on the ground.

Doctor Bean... "...and remain in a more-or-less civil societal fabric" um, have you listened to the way Israelis talk to each other when they are arguing politics. It makes me want to duck for cover! I really don't know if the fabric of Israeli society can survive much more of the polarization.

I liked your Arab bumper stickers thought. :-)

mademoiselle a. ... I don't know about any Lubavitch stickers, but I forgot to mention the Breslev stickers ("Na Nach Nachma..."). You can't find much wrong with that one.

Ball & Chain... "rabidly conservative Republican" + "nuanced positions"??? Hmmmm... I've actually never seen those two phrases used to describe the same person. :-)

I agree that not only does bumper sticker politics oversimplify a point of view... but it is also quite clearly not an attempt at dialogue. The person is saying "This is what I think... and no, I'm not interested in your views on the subject." Kinda like flipping the guy behind you the bird on the 405.

Jack... Of course that's what people want. We all do it to a certain extent... otherwise the world doesn't make sense. We were taught from an early age to look at groups of things and try to figure out commonalities and differences (think 3rd grade math and Sesame Street's "One of these things is not like the others..."). Any facility we may have with inductive reasoning is based on our ability to make assumptions about people and events based on similarities we observe. The problems arise when we chose inductive reasoning over obvious facts to make important decisions.

Posted by: David | Mar 14, 2005 10:34:38 PM

"married to clearly one of the funnier men around"

I think that was a typo. She meant "funnier looking".

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Mar 14, 2005 10:39:04 PM

Doctor Bean... I assumed as much. ;-)

Posted by: David | Mar 14, 2005 10:42:50 PM

The one on my car says "I love Burgers Bar" - not sure if there's any political subtext there but it certainly seems to cross all boundaries.....

Gilly

Posted by: gil ben mori | Mar 14, 2005 10:49:11 PM

Gil... Unless, of course, the person behind you in traffic is a vegan! Seeing as Tuesday is the big anti-PETA 'eat an animal' day... I'd say even your Burgers Bar bumber sticker has the potential to start an argument! :-)

Posted by: David | Mar 14, 2005 11:05:01 PM

Jack... I would have thought just the opposite; that with the instant access to information people would be more able /willing to change their world view based on the most current information.

Now that would be the enlightened society in which people try and affect political change by using their voice and not bombs. The one in which they do no accuse us of using a secret sauce to make matzah or any of the othe ridiculous claims that people use to justify barbarism.

In some cases I think that it is definitely a true statement, but I have seen too many situations in which people refuse to change their POV just because it doesn't suit them to.

In the movies truth often wins, but in real life it doesn't always make it.

Posted by: Jack | Mar 14, 2005 11:30:19 PM

I would have thought just the opposite; that with the instant access to information people would be more able /willing to change their world view based on the most current information.

Actually, what's happened with the information overload is that people simply seek out information resources that confirm their previously-held beliefs, and re-entrench themselves; now, I personally am one of those who reads both Tikkun and Arutz-7, but that's just because I'm a lovable mass of contradictions (or simply a neurotic schizoid).

The fun part for me would be to put both sets of stickers on the car, and really confuse the heck out of the straight-and-narrow thinkers... :)

Posted by: efrex | Mar 15, 2005 12:03:09 AM

Efrex... If you put both stickers on your car over here people will just assume that a settler bought his car second hand from someone in North Tel Aviv (or the other way around) and was too lazy to scrape off the stickers. Israeli's aren't surprised (or confused) by much.

Posted by: David | Mar 15, 2005 3:54:20 PM

And the next best thing to bumper stickers...Internet domains!

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3058861,00.html

(FWIW-the last bumper stick we had on our car read "I climbed Pike's Peak!")

Posted by: jennifer | Mar 15, 2005 10:49:16 PM

Jennifer... Why am I not surprised?

Posted by: David | Mar 16, 2005 9:18:12 AM

While I tend to find both humor and annoyance in many bumper stickers, I've never been one to use them. Mainly because after a while I get sick of seeing the same ones over and over. Even if I agree with the sentiment, it's become nothing more than pablum force-fed to soft minds. So why would I want to put one on my (now non-existent) car?

But I will share one of my favorite bumper sticker sayings:

Jesus is coming... Everyone look busy!

David, I really like "Jesus Saves… he shoots… HE SCORES!" I've never seen that one before...

Posted by: Carol | Mar 17, 2005 5:08:31 AM

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