A fascinating photo appeared in the papers Tuesday. On a tour of the Golan Heights, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz showed exemplary coalition discipline when it came to fashion. They all wore black Uniqlo down jackets, or something very similar.
Uniqlo is a brand name that has, in Israel at least, become a generic name like Kleenex or Band-Aid. Next to those three bigwigs stood Housing and Construction Minister Yoav Galant in a black leather jacket, completing the imperturbable look of this four-headed monster. Alas, the frame was too narrow to take in Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and other politicians who wore the very same jacket.
There are lots of coats out there. Is there an unwritten dress code that no one has reported on? Did these ministers all burn their windbreakers and wool coats? Or is this conservative fashion statement an orchestrated move by lazy PR consultants? And how do we explain the Uniqlo syndrome of the Israeli politician, assuming this display of unoriginality was purely random?
Yes, the Israeli politician is always ready with his Uniqlo jacket, whether to brave the weather or an air conditioner turned up to 11. Take former Prime Minister Ehud Barak who – even in the summer – always wears a Uniqlo in his Facebook videos.
Former Meretz MK Zehava Galon once remarked about this in a Facebook post: “Ambition in life – to have Ehud Barak’s air conditioner.” True, Barak has earned a nice number of “likes” for his jacket, along with the ridicule.
The jacket made headlines in November 2016 when Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi egregiously violated the Knesset’s pretty easy dress code by showing up for a Likud MKs’ meeting in a down jacket and jeans. After being scolded by the prime minister (“What’s this?”), he quickly took off the jacket that covered up his button-down shirt.
But the first to pick up on the fashion momentum was actually Moshe Ya’alon, who as defense minister made the item a trademark on tours of the field as well as the Knesset. He was followed by the rest of the ministers and Netanyahu, who wore a jacket from the upmarket American label Mountain Hardwear.
It’s common knowledge that MKs borrow gimmicks from one another that have proved effective at garnering Facebook “likes,” but it often seems they don’t remember just whom they’re copying. By donning their personal copy of the black Uniqlo, which costs about $70, the Israeli politician is aiming for that “just-one-of-the-guys” look. The puffy jacket in its various versions gained popularity because of its practicality. It’s dull, but it’s light and compact and really keeps you warm.
Maybe the choice of such a coat indicates a certain fixation – and not just in terms of fashion. Maybe the identity of the wearers, all gazing in the same direction, sustains a defense and diplomatic policy of aggressive avoidance. They stick with the familiar shtick to help them survive the game. Or maybe, of course, sometimes a coat is just a coat.