Flight – and fight – of the flyers in Israel's municipal elections

‘Everything is in the merit of a small slip.’

‘Flyerim’ await street cleaning. (photo credit: NATAN ROTHSTEIN)
‘Flyerim’ await street cleaning.
(photo credit: NATAN ROTHSTEIN)
’Tis the season for elections. This past Tuesday the US had its midterms; two weeks ago we in Israel had our municipals. In the big mayoral races, yellow slips decreed that Tel Aviv kept its mayor; Haifa and Beit Shemesh each traded in their mayor for another of the other gender; and the capital, Jerusalem, couldn’t decide, so will go and poll again this coming Tuesday, November 13. And of course, a multitude of parties gained or lost council seats by the white-slipped will of the voters.
And just how did we voters decide for whom the vote polls? Well, there are TV, radio, billboard and print ads; parlor meetings and rallies; friend-and-family recommendations and demands (but you still do what you want in the little booth).
And then there are the flyerim (as Israelis call them).
Flyerim from Israel's municpal electionFlyerim from Israel's municpal election
If you’re not from the more haredi neighborhoods, you might not know what these flyerim are: Typically A5 half-letter-sized plain or glossy sheets of paper, printed on one or both sides, with a message that someone deems so vital for pedestrians to see, that they get a car or cab to drive through town while someone inside (hopefully not the driver) effortlessly and wantonly tosses out a handful of them every 100 meters or so into the rushing air (maybe that’s why they’re called “flyers”). This scatters the leaflets like falling leaves all over the street and sidewalk, with the hope they will be grabbed up by curious passersby – imprinting the flyer’s pivotal message on their minds.
A SAMPLING from this campaign season: One flyer shows pictures of three haredi leaders, who its sponsors claim “have already determined and admonished: only a haredi mayor!” Jerusalem did have one, wedged between Ehud Olmert and the departing incumbent, Nir Barkat – Yad Sarah’s Uri Lupolianski. This time around, it must be Yossi Daitch, they say – who ended up far off in fourth place. This flyer, however, doesn’t say which party to vote for.
Another throw-away quotes the deceased spiritual leader of the Sephardi Shas Party, Rav Ovadia Yosef, as having said, “In heaven they will ask a person after his 120 years: ‘Did you establish mikvaot [ritual baths] and [all kinds of] religious schools, where more than 100,000 children get a good Torah education?’ If he says ‘No I didn’t,’ they will respond, ‘But you voted for Shas,” and so you, the fortunate, proper voter, will go to a very high level of eternal reward. “Everything is in the merit of a small slip of paper” – the white Shas Party voting slip. This flyer, however, doesn’t say who to support for mayor.
A Degel Hatorah (DT) Party flyer writes that its leader decrees, “You must only vote for Degel Hatorah, in the merit of which you will be blessed with righteous children and all other good things.” And therefore, vote also for Moshe Lion, Degel’s choice for mayor.
This year there was even a DT flyer in English – apparently, someone realized that Anglo votes count, too. “Our gedolim (rabbinical leaders) have spoken; it’s time to listen!... If they tell us to vote, we know it’s important. When they all run to the booths to cast their votes, where will you be?" So vote for DT – and Moshe Lion.
But another flyer – in red, white and black – warns voters not to vote for Lion, because you’ll be getting an ally of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who wants to draft haredim, desecrate Shabbat and sell pork! That’s rather black and white – and red – reasoning.
Yet another flyer says that you must not vote at all, quoting a different gadol threatening that “not only is this a prohibition punishable by excommunication, it is much worse than that!” A similar but more stark-looking flyer says, “Get away from them – don’t participate in the municipal elections!” – giving eight reasons on the flip-side why.
And, even more shocking – at least among the various haredi flyerim at Tzomet Bar-Ilan, the intersectional confluence of Bar-Ilan, Shmuel Hanavi, Eshkol and Golda Meir streets in Jerusalem’s haredi North – were the green, red and white Meretz Jerusalem flyers, proclaiming that “the hilonim (secularists) are coming back to Jerusalem!” On one flyer side it says that they’re gonna keep driving on Nevi’im Street on Shabbat; on the other side they promise to open parking lots in Jerusalem  – every day of the week. (Now I understand what all the yelling was about that Thursday, night five days before the elections.) This flyer also didn’t say who should be mayor…
SO THAT was the fight of the flying flyers. But then when the election was over, what were we left with here in Jerusalem, besides a second-round run-off?
Fallen flyers. A whole lot of them.
The streets and sidewalks were littered with them. Mostly trodden on or driven over and now dirty; even not long after landing, you could find few clean ones. There would have been even more of the fallen remaining, if not for the excited boys who collect them to do whoknows- what with, much like they scramble at the feet of synagogue celebrants to collect wrapped candies.
But there are still a lot left on the ground (flyers, not candy) – and someone has to pick them up.
Idan Varda is a street cleaner from Pisgat Ze’ev who sweeps up in Ramat Eshkol and Sanhedria, largely haredi neighborhoods. He’s only been at the job for a month, but had to clean up after this year’s flyer party.
Idan Varda dons his gloves to clean up the mess of flyersIdan Varda dons his gloves to clean up the mess of flyers
“They make a big balagan [mess] in the haredi neighborhoods,” he told In Jerusalem, as he paused before sweeping up a mess of flyers he had collected on a street corner. “Every morning after they have thrown down all of the flyers, we have to sweep them up,” he lamented, referring also to a nearby slow-moving street-cleaning vehicle with a power-wash operator leading it.
Was it worse this year than the last election round? “Yeah, sure – just go look at Bar Ilan Junction!” When asked what could be done, he said, “There’s nothing to do about it.”
Well, Idan, maybe there is.
ACCORDING TO sources in the Environmental Protection Ministry, there is a 1984 law – the “Maintenance of Cleanliness Law” – about keeping public areas clean. It prohibits throwing “anything likely to cause uncleanliness or untidiness,” including flyers from a moving vehicles. Toss a plastic bottle, a paper cup or a banana peel out of your car, and you can get pulled over and cited. And the fine isn’t so pitzy – depending on the type of littering, NIS 250 to NIS 8,000; possibly more for repeat offenders.
Not only is the flyer-thrower breaking the law, but so is, if proven, the flyer’s sponsor!
The problem is, residents of these neighborhoods don’t seem to care, and even look forward to this airborne reading material, knowing that someone like Varda will clean it up – eventually. And both the throwers and catchers probably feel it’s worth the temporary trashiness to help pick the right representative.
But concerned citizens can complain to the ministry. At a minimum, they will arrange to send someone to clean up the flyers or whatever other trash there is, if the regular sanitation staff doesn’t get to it first. The mess at Bar-Ilan Junction remained for several days after it was considerately put there. If someone had complained – if someone had cared – maybe it would have been cleaned up sooner.
Sanitation worker cleaning up the flyerim from the municipal electionSanitation worker cleaning up the flyerim from the municipal election
Not only can you complain, but you can even volunteer to be an official ne’eman nikayon – a “cleanliness trustee” who, according to the law, can report and even fine violators.
Keeping our capital clean has actually been a not-insignificant campaign issue this election season in many municipalities. It should be pointed out that a lot is already being done – for example with street-cleaning vehicles making regular runs around the neighborhood, as well as people like Varda, whose work should be more appreciated. But perhaps whoever becomes our next mayor will do an even better job of cleaning up. And that includes the flyerim – which may have helped him get elected!
In the end, it does all depend on our collective “one small slip.” And care – about the elections and the environment.