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Signs showing a Star of David in a trash can are suddenly everywhere. Hamas used the image 10 years ago

‘Keep the world clean’ memes have been used to promote anti-littering, anti-fascism and anti-communism. Now they’re anti-Zionist

Photos of pro-Palestinian protesters holding signs with a Star of David in a trash can and the words, “Keep the world clean,” are becoming commonplace at rallies and on social media.

The images, often crudely drawn on handmade posters, seem organic. But “it appears that Hamas has been using some type of this image for at least 10 years,” according to Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. The image has taken on a new life since Hamas carried out the Oct. 7 terror attacks in Israel, triggering Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Gaza and the deadly war that is in its third week. 

Online searches easily turn up many instances of the anti-Israel signs and slogans at pro-Palestinian protests in places from Sarajevo and Madrid to Missouri and Idaho.

The most widely shared instance was a photo of a young Norwegian woman, Marie Andersen, who made headlines holding the trash can sign with the Star of David, smiling and exultant, during a pro-Palestinian protest in Warsaw, where she is a medical student. Poland’s president, deputy foreign minister and Warsaw’s mayor all condemned the display as a violation of anti-hate laws.

Andersen defended the sign in an interview on Norwegian TV, saying that it showed “how dirty I think the Israeli government is, both in this warfare, but also by running an apartheid state for decades.” She added that the poster was “not aimed at Jews” and that she was sorry the sign had “undermined the pro-Palestinian movement.”

On Wednesday, another image went viral of a protester holding a similar sign near New York University in Manhattan. The New York Post reported that the sign-bearer was a public high school student whose teacher brought her class to the demonstration. NYU said it did not know who was at the protest.

A long history of putting ideology in the trash

Pitcavage cited a 2013 online description of a cartoon from a Gaza student union in which a stick figure, depicted in the colors of the Palestinian flag, is shown dropping the Star of David into the garbage with the slogan “Keep the world clean” in Arabic. Hamas has apparently been using the logo “for some time,” he said, adding that he can’t rule out that the decade-old instance “wasn’t borrowed from some other, even earlier source.”

Certainly the concept of putting an ideology you don’t like in the garbage didn’t start with Hamas. Anti-fascist and anti-communist campaigns have used stick figures putting swastikas or hammers-and-sickles in trash cans for decades. You can still buy T-shirts and download clip art of those images from many websites. 

“The idea of throwing a symbol in the trash has a long history,” said Pitcavage. “The modern versions of this trope began many years ago after ‘do not litter’ signs and placards featuring a generic/abstracted person dropping a piece of trash into a trash bin became commonly used.”

Pitcavage said the “first ideological version of this symbol was a left-wing symbol that took the common no-littering symbol and replaced the piece of trash with a swastika.” Far-right activists took that image and replaced the swastika with a hammer-and-sickle or a Star of David, he said. 

“Over time, many other people created yet more variations of the basic theme, featuring the generic person dumping other things the creators didn’t like into the trash, including ‘USA,’ the Christian cross, other religious symbols, company logos, etc.,” he added. 

Going back to World War II, the National Archives in Britain even show a cartoon of Hitler in a trash can. That image was part of a campaign to support the war effort by recycling metal and paper rather than throwing them away.

“Once someone comes up with a variation for something like this, it can be quickly copied and shared,” Pitcavage said. 

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