Firebrand Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev has never been shy about her opinions, and some of the ways she’s expressed them have become phrases and images every Israeli knows. This week we learned that she even knows how to bring her unique political style to places where she doesn’t even speak the language—via fashion.
On Wednesday night, Regev showed up on the red carpet at Cannes in a getup that, much like her political messaging back in Israel, was anything but subtle. She wore a Jerusalem-of-Gold-themed dress, and it wasn’t like one of those dresses at the Met Gala, where you struggle to figure out how it’s connected to the theme. No, this dress was gold on top and had Jerusalem on the bottom. Literally. The Jerusalem skyline was printed across her skirt.
Her outfit set corners of the internet ablaze. One of the best jokes currently circulating online is that Regev is very thrifty: she used the walls of her sukkah as a dress. And of course there are the memes—putting her Jerusalem skirt on Maria Von Trapp, advertising an upcoming Peace Now rally, and more.
Since we’re talking about fashion here, let’s get the easy part out of the way: She looked great. The A-line cut was flattering, the gold suited her complexion, she wore an elegant updo and wisely chose very subtle jewelry that did not compete for attention with the dress. But Regev obviously wasn’t out to make heads turn on the red carpet just because she’s pretty: Regev’s fashion statement was a political statement, and a defiant one at that.
Her Jerusalem of Gold frock, designed by Aviad Arik Herman, came at a time when Israel and the Jewish People’s ties to Jerusalem are under constant assault by the international community. There were two UNESCO decisions in the past year denying Jewish ties to Jerusalem and disavowing Israeli sovereignty in its capital city. France abstained from the UNESCO vote this month.
And there’s the ongoing controversy about President Donald Trump’s upcoming visit to Israel and his trip to the Western Wall. Israel’s most popular evening news broadcast, on Channel 2, reported that a White House official wouldn’t let Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu join Trump at the Kotel because it’s not in Israel. While the White House denied that the statement reflects its policies, and called into question whether it truly came from one of its officials, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster refused to say whether the Western Wall is in Israel or not. And Israelis still are not invited to join Trump at the Kotel—so at least one MK, Bezalel Smotrich, has threatened to use his parliamentary immunity to crash POTUS’ party, in protest. The next day, news came out that Trump gave top-secret information to Russia, and many reports pointed to Israel as the source of information, but Israelis still seemed much more upset about the Kotel situation. What the world doesn’t seem to understand is that Western Wall is at the core of Israeli Jewish identity. It should be simple enough to point out that Jewish nationalism is called Zionism, and Zion means Jerusalem, but, apparently it’s not.
The 50th anniversary of the Six Day War and Jerusalem’s reunification is coming up, which is the reason Regev gave in a statement for wearing the dress, and even if there are different plans for what’ll happen to Jerusalem in the event of a two-state solution, there isn’t more than a tiny minority of Jewish Israelis who think the Western Wall should be in anyone else’s hands ever again. It’s a fail-proof political message; Netanyahu often accuses his rivals in elections of wanting to divide Jerusalem.
And that brings us back to Regev, a longtime Jerusalem warrior. She has been a huge proponent of Jews, who are not allowed to pray, having equal rights to Muslims at the Temple Mount. In one of her most famous political speeches, from the 2013 election campaign, where she grabbed an Israeli flag on stage and waved it around, she said: “Israel is the Jewish State whose capital is Jerusalem forever and ever. Applause!” earning her the nickname Miri “Applause” Regev and spawning remixes and memes.
And now Regev’s getting attention for wearing Jerusalem, instead of shouting about it.
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Lahav Harkov is the diplomatic correspondent for The Jerusalem Post. She tweets at @LahavHarkov.