Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have sought to win over Iranians in an interview with British Persian-language television, but a casual assertion that they were banned from wearing jeans won only gentle ridicule from some of his audience on Sunday.
Netanyahu has watched with some concern a diplomatic drive by new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to build warmer ties with the United States and other Western powers and achieve an easing of sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear programme.
But his statements in an interview with the BBC Persian television on the need for Iran to end its uranium enrichment programme were somewhat overshadowed by his comments on fashion freedoms allowed to Iranians by their government.
“I think if the Iranian people had freedom, they would wear jeans, listen to Western music, and have free elections,” Netanyahu said in the interview, which was dubbed into Persian and released late on Saturday.
That statement drew a barbed reaction from Iran where, though women are required to cover their hair and wear loose clothing in public, jeans are not forbidden, and are worn. Much Western music is illegal, but people find a way to listen to it at home.
Dozens of Iranians published pictures of themselves on Twitter on Sunday wearing jeans and addressed their posts to Netanyahu’s official Twitter account, saying he was out of touch with Iranians.
“Mr. Netanyahu, here is a shop selling weapons of mass destruction in Iran,” one popular tweet read, showing a picture of a denim shop originally published by an Iranian semi-official news agency.
“Netanyahu, three days ago I bought a pair of jeans,” another Iranian user tweeted.
Twitter is blocked by a government filter in Iran, though many Iranians access it through special software to circumvent the block.
Netanyahu also said in his interview that the people of Iran and Israel had a “deep friendship into modern times” that had been destroyed by Iran’s current theocratic government. He criticised the censorship of social media and satellite channels inside Iran as well as the government’s treatment of women and gays.
“This is not what the Persian people deserve,” Netanyahu said.
He said the election that had brought Rouhani to power was not free, and that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holds the real power over the nuclear programme. Iran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons, and says its nuclear programme is purely peaceful.
“I would welcome a genuine rapprochement, a genuine effort to stop the nuclear programme - not a fake one. Not ‘harfe pooch,’” Netanyahu said, using a colloquial Persian phrase meaning “empty words.”