Opinion

Israel's Election Was Filthy. Now Clean Up

Signs and papers litter the ground at Likud headquarters after the election, September 17, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

This election campaign has left anyone with a basic sense of decency feeling deeply nauseous. Campaigns have become increasingly extreme over time in terms of the level of filth they spread. The person setting the tone is of course Benjamin Netanyahu, the greatest polluter of them all. A walk through the streets of our cities over the past few days has felt like navigating a sea of dirt. And that’s not just a metaphor; it’s a solid, physical reality. Israeli public space is truly filthy. This election campaign, like its predecessors, has left Israel with huge quantities of garbage. Election signs are scattered everywhere, stickers are folded over fences, flyers fly all over under people’s feet, plastic cable ties are clasped to railings, souvenirs of ugly electioneering posters that were hung there a minute before. Look left, look right, all you see is dirt.

The autumn breezes, which usually bring respite from the burning hot summer, now carry not relief, but nylon particles and paper. The sidewalks are strewn with chewed gum and the roads have become the ashtray of every passing driver. Israel is an extremely dirty place, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Throwing garbage into the street – fingers that open intentionally and drop garbage on the sidewalk or the road without a minimal effort to find a nearby garbage can – shows the deep alienation of the litterers from the space around them. The equation says that if so many Israelis can commit this act of alienation – then just as many Israelis feel deep alienation toward their environment, and therefore to their country. That turns the frequent declarations of love for the country – there’s no place like Israel / I wouldn’t live anywhere else / I’m addicted to the Israeli energy, and the like – into lies. The truth that’s hiding behind these statements, deep in the hearts of the people who say them, is the alienation that Israelis feel toward their country. They don’t see it as home, because you don’t dirty your home. They don’t see the public space as shared space, which belongs to them too.

And the people who eventually clean up the cigarette butts and the candy wrappers that we throw down are the asylum seekers. The local authorities in Israel are the main employers of the asylum seekers. They give them a garbage can on wheels, a broom and a dustpan and pay them a pittance to clean up after us, the Israelis. The panicked and cruel call to expel them from here is actually a call to get rid of the people who clean our garbage up after us.

On Tuesday when I went out to vote, the usual street cleaner in our neighborhood – a sad-faced young man with tattered shoes who came here from Eritrea – was sweeping with his worn street broom. Into a yellow dust pan made out of a piece of old jerrican, he swept a flier bearing the image of Netanyahu and Donald Trump. The flier bore the slogan “a different league.” Well, this is the league that has been dirtying our sidewalks for years now, and it deserves no better end that to be whisked into a garbage can by an asylum seeker.