newsIsrael at War

Israeli officials’ attire conveys ‘urgency’ amid war, experts say

“Gallant and Netanyahu should wear the suit and tie in official meetings and keep the all-black casual look for when they’re on the ground,” Beverly Hallberg, of District Media Group, told JNS.

(From left) Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant and Israeli Chief of the General Staff Herzi Halevi in Tel Aviv on Dec. 18, 2023. Credit: Chad McNeeley/U.S. Department of Defense.
(From left) Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant and Israeli Chief of the General Staff Herzi Halevi in Tel Aviv on Dec. 18, 2023. Credit: Chad McNeeley/U.S. Department of Defense.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president, has tended to appear in public in a green or other military-style uniform since Russia attacked his country in February 2022. Just as his attire often contrasts starkly with more formally attired Western counterparts, senior Israeli officials have often appeared dressed down compared to U.S. colleagues.

Standing alongside Lloyd Austin, the U.S. secretary of defense, who was clad in a suit and tie during a Dec. 18 meeting in Tel Aviv, Yoav Gallant, Israeli minister of defense, wore a black button-down shirt, tucked into black pants with a black belt. He did the same during a Dec. 14 meeting in Israel with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also gone with a black button-down shirt in meetings with U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and he went tieless alongside U.S. President Joe Biden. In all three instances, the U.S. and British politicians wore suits and ties.

“There is a time-honored manner of dress for American male politicians seeking to show urgency and concern,” political commentator Chris Stirewalt, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and contributing editor and weekly columnist at The Dispatch, told JNS.

Sometimes, U.S. officials have donned “a branded windbreaker, pullover or vest. Oftentimes, it is a dress shirt, open at the collar, with the sleeves rolled up” when meeting with law-enforcement officials at disaster scenes, or other times “it would be helpful to indicate activity and engagement,” added Stirewalt, a former Fox News Channel political editor who also co-hosts the podcast Ink Stained Wretches

Stirewalt thinks that Zelenskyy’s attire is the sort “we would call a military uniform, not unlike what Winston Churchill and other foreign wartime allies have worn on U.S. visits, but the messaging is similar.”

“Israeli leaders fall closer to the U.S. norm, but I think it all falls into the same effort to show urgency and engagement,” he said.

On a recent, unsanctioned visit to Washington, Benny Gantz, a member of the Israeli War Cabinet, wore a suit and tie during a meeting with Blinken, although he went without a tie during a Tel Aviv meeting on March 22 with the U.S. secretary of state and a meeting with Blinken last month. 

Beverly Hallberg, founder and president of District Media Group, trains politicians and others to appear on camera, among other interactions with journalists.

Biden Netanyahu
U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Avi Ohayon/GPO.

“I’m a firm believer that one should dress for the occasion and setting matters. For example, when a candidate is running for office, it would be disorienting if he or she wore a suit to the state fair,” Hallberg told JNS. “But once that same candidate goes from the state fair to a town hall meeting, he or she would need to wear more professional attire.”

A polo shirt or casual attire is appropriate for a journalist covering the U.S. border, “but we would expect that same reporter to wear business professional attire when he or she goes into the studio for an interview,” added Hallberg, a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

She was “more comfortable” with Zelenskyy’s casual “wartime” look when he met with the U.S. Congress virtually, “since he was live from a war zone.”

“But even then, a collared shirt would have been more appropriate given his audience,” Hallberg said. “When he came to the United States and met with Congress in person, his casual wartime wardrobe no longer made sense, and it seemed disrespectful that he didn’t wear a suit.”

“Setting matters and one should dress appropriately,” she said.

Gallant and Netanyahu appear to be making “a concerted effort to dress in all-black—no jacket and no tie,” noted Hallberg. “I think the black understandably symbolizes the tragedy of lives lost and the dire situation.”

She doesn’t see that attire as more casual European or Middle Eastern attire than U.S. fashion. “Americans are notorious for wearing jeans and tennis shoes while on vacation,” said Hallberg. “Americans can be embarrassingly inappropriate with their casualness.”

She likes the jacket-less and tie-less look “when on the ground.”

“I don’t like it in professional meetings. For example, it was appropriate that when George W. Bush spoke at ground zero he wore a windbreaker. It would have looked completely wrong for him to wear a suit,” Hallberg said. “Gallant and Netanyahu should wear the suit and tie in official meetings and keep the all-black casual look for when they’re on the ground.”

“You never want to be more casual than the people you are leading,” she added.

Bradley Bowman, senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JNS that he focuses on foreign and defense policy—and not on leaders’ fashion choices.

“Helping Ukrainians defeat Putin’s unprovoked invasion and helping Israelis defend themselves against a murderous terrorist enemy is a wise investment for Americans,” he said. “Those who get distracted by questions related to the clothing of foreign leaders are missing the main point.”

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