MZEEBIJAfter President Rouhani’s widely successful UN speech and the historic phone call between Rouhani and Obama, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken to his own offensive. 

He gave an interview to BBC Persian, in which he claimed to show compassion for Iran’s people, talking about the murder of the Iranian martyr Neda [Agha-Soltan] during the Green Revolution.

Yet Netanyahu’s words about the Iranian government “regime’s control of Iran, it’s aggressive designs, it’s brutalization of it’s own people” rang hollow.   Everything that Netanyahu attributed to the Iranian regime—in particular “aggressive designs” against the people of Iran—could just as easily be used to characterize Netanyahu’s own bellicose relationship with Iran.

Yet the most telling part of the interview was Netanyahu’s laughable statement:

“If the people of Iran were free they could wear jeans and listen to Western music.”

Netanyahu’s statement has been widely circulated, ridiculed, and dismissed in Iranian, Israeli, and American news outlets and social media.
It’s now even a Buzzfeed feature.


Iranian social media user displaying his jeans and his western music.

Iranian social media user displaying his jeans and his western music. from Twitter.

The statement is telling on a number of levels.  The most obvious part is Netanyahu’s utter ignorance of what real Iranians actually wear, the range of social practices inside Iran.   And these real Iranians, who are among the most heavily wired and internet-savvy populations in the world, have been taking to social media to mock Netanyahu’s ignorance.

More Tehran women...(gasp!)...wearing jeans.

More Tehran women…(gasp!)…wearing jeans. from "Tehran Street Style"

Many of them are saying making the simple point:  it doesn’t take much to find out what Iranians are wearing these days.   A simple survey of social media would do.  There are a number of interesting campaigns, such as the “Tehran Street Style” page on Imgur.

In which Iranians are posting their own fashion.   (As it might be expected, these are disproportionally upper-class “stylish” Iranians who are eager to present their own sense of cosmopolitan fashion.)  Nevertheless, the utter absurdity of Netanyahu’s statement could have been demonstrated with a simple google search.

And more importantly, if Netanyahu can’t accurately portray what Iranians wear or do not wear, how can he be trusted to accurately describe what hidden nuclear ambitions the Iranian regimes does or does not harbor?

Here are some of the responses from Iranian youth on social media.   They have organized an #Iranjeans campaign to mock Netanyahu’s characterization of Iranians.  Here is a brief sampling of these responses.   I have attempted to post some of the ones with more PG13 language:

Why that certainly looks like an Iranian youth, wearing jeans, speaking with the Supreme Leader.

Why that certainly looks like an Iranian youth, wearing jeans, speaking with the Supreme Leader. from Twitter.

One of the most amusing pictures depicts the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, with an Iranian youth who’s wearing….(gasp!) a pair of jeans.

O by the way i am IRANIAN and yes, i do wear jeans mr Netanyahu ‪#IranJeans ‪

other Iranians have posted pictures of their closet, featuring neatly folded pairs of jeans, mockingly adding:  “you yourself as messy!”

Best ‪#jeans photo so far: with ‪#Iran SL. Via ‪@rooznameh ‪

#IranJeans comment: "Netanyahu, apparently you also did not see those you assassinated either."

#IranJeans comment: “Netanyahu, apparently you also did not see those you assassinated either.” from Twitter.

Other social media users have used the #Iranjeans campaign to bring attention to other realities that Netanyahu does not wish to acknowledge, such as the widely reported Israeli assassination of Iranian scientists.

دانشمند داریوش رضایی‌نژاد با شلوار ‫#جین نتانیاهو توکسانی راکه ترورکردی وبه قتل رساندی روهم ندیدی ‎‪#jeans  ‪#IranJeans ‪

Other Iranian youth have responded with a sarcasm and wit that would be at home in any American or Israeli home:

@netanyahu ‪#IranJeans Do you really wanna go that road? ‪

Iranian woman to Netanyahu:  "Do you really wanna go down that road?"

Iranian woman to Netanyahu: “Do you really wanna go down that road?” from Twitter.

The larger issue is elsewhere.  Iran, like many other countries (including our own United States) does have very serious challenges in terms of democracy, economics, and elsewhere.   There is a real serious deficit of freedom of speech, political participation, and freedom to protest.  However, a real concern for these rights has to come from the Iranian people themselves, or from those who stand in solidarity with them.   When it comes from those who time and again stand in the United Nations and ask for the noose of sanctions to be tightened around the neck of Iranians, from those who point their own already existing 250 (and possibly more) nuclear warheads towards Iran, and from those who talk about the only choice being whether Israel will attack Iran alone or whether Israel and America will attack Iran, that “concern” for Iranians is exposed as what it is:   hollow, a lie, and a deceit.

The last fascinating issue is this: Netanyahu is unprepared for this rapidly changing world.  He is accustomed to the world of using AIPAC to put pressure on the United States to enter into war against Iran, to receive billions of dollars in US aid to occupy and oppress Palestinians, and to perpetuate the myth of Israel as an island of democracy in a turbulent region.  What he is not prepared for is a world in which Iranians, and Israelis, and Americans, and Palestinians, and others can begin counter-discourses of their own, immediately, effectively, and powerfully.

Tehran women wearing jeans

Tehran women wearing jeans from Imgur site "Tehran Street Style"

Natanyahu sees two types of Iranians: wolves in wolves clothing (ala Ahmadinejad) and wolves in sheep’s clothing (ala Rouhani).  The sanctions, enforced and implemented by the United States, restrict the flow of information across people who are actually quite eager to get to know one another more.   Twitter and social media can not by themselves remove the incredible suffering of the Iranian people under the sanctions.  But they can go a long way towards conveying the full humanity of a people who are currently obscured.  And campaigns like the #Iranjeans campaign point us to the power of people here to connect to people there, people there to connect to people over here, bypassing the attempts of Netanyahu (and his ilk in the United States, and his ilk in Iran) to cut out the channels of communication and monopolize the conversation.

In that way, the #Iranjeans campaign, and those like it, are profoundly anti-tyrannical, anti-tyranny, and disruptive.   These campaigns, grassroots, spontaneous, sarcastic, humanistic, humorous, and intimate, abhor tyranny, both of the type manifested by Netanyahu and the American Empire and of the variety manifested by the conservative factions of the Iranian regime.

Power to the people.









  1. Dear Ostad,

    Individuals are free to choose their dress in the US and Israel without fearing the police to arrest them. Iran was never as harsh as Afghanistan under the Taliban, but the arbitrary nature of the Islamic system permits the police to beat up and arrest even children. Out of the suspicion, the kids might play on the street and behave immoral. The jeans campaign is ridiculous, though some brainwashed young Iranians really do support the Ayatollah rule. The lack of rule of law allows the regime thugs to oppress citizens at any time.

    In authoritarian and totalitarian systems such as Cuba, Iraq under Saddam and the Apartheid of South Africa, people were free to dance and wear jeans, too. We all know this is not the point.

  2. “but the arbitrary nature of the Islamic system permits the police to beat up and arrest even children”.
    This is not a true statement one hundred percent! Are you living in Iran or would like to support your enemy with this kind of wrong testimony?
    I appreciate the Iranian professor for his jeans campaign and rise to tell the truth.

  3. Greetings from Iran
    I’m Amin .. 54 years old from Iran
    I am engaged in the production of denim jeans and clothing ,in Tehran-Hafez Street-no 7290.
    I have 30 years of experience.
    In 1997, I began to export denim clothing.
    70% of our products are sold in iran.
    We will design a special dress for Netanyahu.
    Wear a liar
    Wear a trickster
    Wear a killer
    Dress an american tax collector
    He can use anywhere from denim garments manufactured in Iran.

  4. Netanyahu is Netanyahu: he keeps warmongering and reproducing the same stereotypes in order to support his political atrocities and to justify the inhumane crimes that they are committing everyday.

    Go for #Iranjeans against vilification and state oppression!

  5. This is crap… I am living in Iran. Iranian girl and women really not able to wear jean in public. If they wearing it, they should hide it under a dress like veil or Manteau (big coats for women).

  6. Phil Zuckerman

    Can you have a gay pride parade in Iran? Can you stand on the street corner handing out copies of the New Testament, or the Bill of Rights, or a sheet of paper condemning the Ayatollahs? Can you publish an atheist newspaper which critiques the Qu’ran? OK — so you can wear jeans. Yippee! The Iranians I know are secular, and they must hide their secularity every day and the women can only uncover their hair indoors. The Ayatollahs have imprisoned, killed, and tortured far more people than the Shah ever did. So Netanyahu said something stupid. Wow. How about condemning the Ayatollahs for their gross violations of human rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and secular rights?

    • Omid Safi

      Hello Mr. Zuckerman. Iranians can’t have a gay parade. So let’s impose a brutal sanction on them that deprives their children of cancer medications, and threaten them with nuclear annihilation. That’ll learn them to be loving, open-minded, tolerant citizens of the modern world.
      good day sir.

      • Phil Zuckerman

        Hi Omid — you missed my point. I thought it was made clearly, but obviously not. Forgive me. Let me try to state it more simply:

        When you write an entire piece in which you condemn an arrogant, misguided, nationalistic politician (such as Netanyahu), but fail to condemn the bloody, fascist, homophobic, patriarchal leaders of the nation in question (Iran), you are being extremely biased (at best) or tacitly approving of the Ayatollahs’ evil (at worst).

        Why don’t you write a piece about the gross human rights abuses carried out in Iran – against women, socialists, humanists, atheists, pro-democracy activists, homosexuals, Baha’is (!!) — since the Ayatollahs took over? Perhaps you can’t, because you have family there who might suffer the wrath of you exercising your freedom of speech?

        Sorry if I am coming off as unduly snarky — but I found your piece really weird. There’s so much to critique when it comes to Netanyahu and Israel (gross human rights violations!) — but you jumped on what is to me is a relatively silly issue (jeans) — when there are serious problems within Iran that you seem to totally avoid. Why?

        • Omid Safi

          Hello Mr. Zuckerman. You don’t come across as snarky, but you do come across as presumptive. If you have questions about what a specific person has or has not written about, the polite and civil thing to do is to ask them. As it turns out, I have about a 15 year track record of speaking out against human rights violations in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. I also speak out against human rights violations in Israel, in United States, and in Europe. I do so because I recognize that justice is holistic, and a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere (as Martin taught us).
          Why did I bring up the jeans issue here? Because Netanyahu did, in his rush to neutralize the good will established by the thawing of the relationship between Iran and United States.

  7. Phil Zuckerman

    Fair enough, Dr. Safi. You are right — I am new to RNS — and I am new to you. This was the first piece of yours I have ever read. My comments were impulsive…
    Best, Phil

    • Omid Safi

      thank you so much Mr. Zuckerman for your gracious reply. I hope as you keep up with my blog posts, you’ll see a consistent moral response against injustice anywhere and everywhere.

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