The Red Flag Raised by Sara Netanyahu's Black Dress

Undoubtedly, Sara Netanyahu anticipated the reaction to her dress, but her face showed no trace of anxiety or unease. Perhaps this ability to be so tough is the most daunting thing about her.

Shachar Atwan
Shachar Atwan
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Shachar Atwan
Shachar Atwan

Her black lace dress whose black-fabric bands concealed regions that are customarily hidden thrust the prime minister’s wife into the heart of a stormy public debate this week. Vehement responses started popping up on the Internet during the broadcast of the Knesset’s swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday. It escalated to such a fever pitch that, by the end of the event, it seemed the fact that Sara Netanyahu’s dress hadn’t gone up in flames because of all the blistering looks of disapproval was in itself a miracle.

What hasn’t been said about her: that she disgraced the dignified event, or that she lacks awareness of what goes on around her. As to her figure and looks, it was claimed (among other things) that she carries a pouch, and that she is the new face of the Pillsbury Doughboy.

The main message delivered to the First Lady was: Dear not-so-young lady, revealing, short, lace dresses, which generously expose your body, are suited neither to your age, figure nor stature so, please, refrain from wearing them in the future.

The choice of clothing to wear at such events is not a last-minute decision, and the dress must have been hanging in the Prime Minister’s Residence for some time in advance. This was not a passing whim, but rather a considered choice. Sara Netanyahu is aware of the many eyes that are peeled in her direction and if she forgot that for a moment, the media fest surrounding Michelle Obama’s wardrobe at the U.S. presidential inaugural events a month ago should have served as a good reminder.

It is reasonable to assume that Netanyahu’s husband took notice of her outfit before they left the house together. Perhaps she even asked what he thought. But the premier apparently agreed with her choice, and then proceeded to continue dealing with his important matters. Possibly that’s what fans the flames of the public’s consternation in this case: the feeling that little thought is given to the public in the prime minister’s house.

The First Lady’s “disputatious” dress, as it was dubbed in the ensuing ruckus, is not the fabric of dialogue but rather the garb of monologue that emitted a disarming message of insensitivity and blindness. The particular style she wore has a distinct fashion context, and when it is used by fully grown women, it transmits a strident message. Some discerned in the regal dress the outfit of a Matronita according to the Talmud, a woman of lofty social rank who conversed with rabbis. These commentators viewed the dress as the natural choice of a woman who has the self-image of a matriarch, who peremptorily instructs her husband how to govern state affairs.

Yet the same outfit can paint the prime minister’s wife in an entirely different hue: as the wife who keeps his secrets, as his full partner.

One hypothesis holds that the prime minister knew that the fact his wife wore the dress was tantamount to waving a red flag before the representatives of the Orthodox parties, just before setting out to form a coalition.

Reports later were that representatives of the Orthodox parties and Haredim who attended the event were deeply insulted by Sara Netanyahu’s choice of clothing. For one, Shas leader Aryeh Deri even turned his glance away when he conversed with her. An editorial subsequently published by Kikar Hashabat one of the Haredi community’s news and current events sites declared: “Mrs. Netanyahu, who is regarded as the figure who sets the agenda in the Prime Minister’s Bureau , did not bother to dignify the event by wearing appropriate attire, and instead sullied it by putting on a garment whose appearance we will not describe for understandable reasons; [she chose the dress] despite the presence of Israel’s chief rabbis, and Haredi representatives.”

The discomfit is aggravated also because of a fashion-related fact: The lacy and practically transparent dress features a flesh-colored lining. So this was not an attempt to showcase exposed skin, per se, but rather to give the appearance of wearing a revealing dress.

When I think again about the premier’s wife and the moments during which she prepared for the ceremony at home when she examined the dress’ small details in front of the mirror and made final hair and makeup adjustments I can almost feel the shudder of anxiety which gripped her. Within a few moments she would arrive at the Knesset, and march into a hall controlled by men, media people and film crews from around the world. That’s not exactly an intimate moment, and so making an appearance in such revealing attire necessarily stirred discomfiture, especially in the case of the much-experienced First Lady.

Undoubtedly, Sara Netanyahu anticipated how those present in the hall would stare at her yet, after she arrived, throughout the course of the evening, her face showed no trace of anxiety or unease. And maybe that ability, to be so tough, is the most daunting thing about her.

Sara Netanyahu in the Knesset. Not exactly an intimate moment.Credit: Emil Salman

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