One of the crowning glories of Benjamin Netanyahu’s “media blitz” last week, following his speech at the United Nations General Assembly was an interview with the BBC’s Persian service. In an attempt to characterize the interview as historic, the prime minister’s bureau pointed out that this was the first time Netanyahu had given an interview to a Persian-speaking media outlet, addressing the Iranian people directly.
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The prime minister’s bureau marketed the interview aggressively. In addition to text messaging journalists direct quotes from the interview and sending out detailed press releases, Netanyahu’s spokespeople circulated video clips from the interview to the Israeli television channels, posted parts of the interview on YouTube, tweeted on it and shared it on Facebook.
To be honest, I was surprised by this initiative. Netanyahu has been giving fiery speeches about the Iranian nuclear threat for 18 years and only now has he found it appropriate to address the Iranian people or try to speak to Iran over the ayatollahs’ heads. But it's better late than never.
The interview with Netanyahu wasn’t really in Persian. Most of it was simultaneously translated in subtitles. In fact, Netanyahu said about two words in the Iranian's language: “harf-e pootch,” which can loosely be translated as “nonsense,” and “Sadeh-lowh” - “sucker.”
According to one of the announcements made by the prime minister’s bureau, some 12 million Iranians watch BBC Persian every week. Netanyahu’s words were received loud and clear on the other end, although instead of eliciting positive reactions they spurred antagonism and fury, especially among Iran's liberal youth who voted for Iranian President Hassan Rohani en masse in the last election.
The young Iranians were not angry over Netanyahu’s strange choice of Persian expressions, rather a single sentence that he uttered in English: “If the people of Iran were free they could wear jeans and listen to Western music.”
Over the past 24 hours, dozens of young Iranians have responded to Netanyahu with a “jeans protest” - tweeting pictures of themselves in jeans. Some of them mocked Israel's intelligence agencies, saying they were so busy with the surveillance of the Iranian nuclear program that they neglected to update Netanyahu on fashion trends in Tehran.
“2day I’m wearing jeans, I can send my photo 4 Netanyahu if his spies in Iran didn’t see people who wear jeans and listen to Western songs by their Iphone!” Sadegh Ghorbani, a young journalist from Tehran, posted on Twitter.
Mohamad Nezamabadi, a student at Tehran University, was even more cynical. “Not only we wear jeans, but also listen to the foreign language musics! I bet he thinks that we ride horses instead of cars!” he tweeted.
It is not clear who advises Netanyahu on Iran's internal politics, the attitudes of its young or the daily life in Tehran or Isfahan. In his defense, it should be noted that in recent years there have been reports of a dress code dictated by the regime and a ban on wearing tight jeans.
For example, in January 2011 Reuters reported, based on a report on the semi-official Iranian news agency Fars, that Iranian universities had been instructed not to allow female students to turn up for classes sporting long fingernails, tattoos or tight jeans. Judging by the photos posted by the young Iranian men and women it’s unclear to what extent these instructions, if indeed they were given, are adhered to.
In conclusion, if Netanyahu is interested in contemporary fashion in Teheran, he can enter an album titled "Tehran Street Style" on the image-sharing website Imgur. Apart from the head covering, any one of the young people there could easily blend in on the streets of Tel Aviv.