In an interview last week with BBC's Persian-language station, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an appeal to the people of Iran: Challenge your country's oppressive leadership, he said, and remember the freedoms you deserve.
Netanyahu touched on many topics during the interview, but one particular comment has dominated the headlines this week: a fashion-related faux pas that has launched a flurry of angry responses from the very people he was hoping to woo.
"I think if the Iranian people had freedom, they would wear jeans, listen to Western music, and have free elections," Netanyahu said in the BBC interview.
This, however, is but a half-truth.
Clothing is restricted in Iran, but jeans are not an issue. According to the New York Times, jeans were "regarded as a despicable symbol of the United States" in the years immediately after the 1979 Islamic Revolution; however, jeans are now "as ubiquitous" in Iran as they are in most other nations in the world.
As for music, Reuters says that while a lot of Western music is illegal, Iranians do find ways to listen to it in private.
As Iranians flood the Twitterverse with photographs and scathing words, the hashtag #IranJeans and #Jeans have both been trending on the social network:
— Sallar (@sallar) October 6, 2013
— صندلی خالی (@sandaliekhali) October 6, 2013
— Mohammad HZG (@mohhzg) October 6, 2013
— shima (@shimoOol) October 6, 2013
— میلیک (@miiilik) October 6, 2013
— Ati (@Atimooni) October 6, 2013
— سیدسجاد روزنامه نویس (@rooznameh) October 6, 2013
Hey #Netanyahu. Bet u didn't know; Blue jeans so passé in Iran now, we're more into leggings & slim cut colourful Chinos..Even in downtown
— Atieh Sabbar (@AtiehS) October 6, 2013
— iiriix (@iiriix) October 6, 2013
In an op-ed for the Washington Post entitled "Why it matters that Netanyahu doesn’t know that Iranians wear jeans," Max Fisher wrote that the wave of ire that Netanyahu has roused with his comment could be a bad sign for future peacekeeping:
Netanyahu's comment touched on a common perception in Iran: that the country is mistreated and misunderstood by a bellicose and condescending West. Anything that entrenches that idea is not going to help with the ongoing efforts to find either a nuclear deal or a larger detente. One little incident is not going to dramatically shift the national mood in Iran, of course, but what Western leaders say and do over the next months and years of diplomacy could certainly help shape the conversation inside the country.
Though Tehran and Washington are leading that effort, there's no denying that Israel will play a major role in the process. Netanyahu's comments are a reminder of that, and a sign of the sort of role he might play.