Boris Fishman

< Back to Other Writing

Orange Alert

The Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, scheduled to begin tomorrow, has provoked ferocious opposition from those who view it as a concession to Palestinian terrorism. There have been periodic warnings of civil war, but, as of press time, the only war to break out in Israel has been between colors: anti-disengagement forces are orange, whereas the government’s supporters are blue, after the Israeli flag.

These days, especially after the resounding success of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, color-coding is de rigueur for fledgling political movements. Earlier this year, Kuwaiti advocates of women’s suffrage marched in blue. Mongolian reformers are yellow. Azerbaijanis and Moldovans, not wishing to stray from the path of success paved by the Ukrainians, adopted orange.

”Orange is an excellent choice for a political movement,” said Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute in New Jersey. ”It’s the marriage of red, which is exciting and dynamic, with yellow, which is friendly and convivial. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Indeed, in Israel, orange seems to have bested blue, prompting observers to wonder whether it was the anti-pullout campaign’s bid to share in the magic of the Ukrainian moment. The reality is more mundane. Orange, meant to evoke the surrounding sun and sand, is one of the municipal colors of Gush Katif, the main group of Jewish settlements in Gaza.

Earlier this year, the Israeli fashion establishment had anointed it as the ”in” color of the summer. ”If someone doesn’t choose orange,” a designer watch retailer explained to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, ”he is going against the world fashion trend.” Then the settlers and their sympathizers — a conservative crowd not known for its forward fashion sense — claimed it, and orange t-shirts, bracelets, caps, even dental braces quickly thickened on the streets of Jerusalem and beyond. Horror-stricken hipsters rushed the returns lines. By the end of July, high-end clothing stores and fashion houses were reporting shelves upon shelves of untouched orange.

Israeli fashionistas found the pro-disengagement color an inadequate substitute. ”Blue is so three years ago,” a young woman from Tel Aviv whined to The Guardian. (She satisfied her yen for orange covertly, with four sets of matching orange bra-and-undies.)

The color war has stirred up mayhem far beyond the fashion world. A delegation of unwitting Indian dignitaries bearing saffron scarves for their hosts in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, had to surrender them to security, as the parliament prohibits sloganeering in its halls. An overzealous Knesset aide who had dyed his hair orange was barred from the premises altogether. As Ha’aretz reported, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the architect of the Gaza pullout, had to leave his favorite tie, an orange screamer, at home.

Where the social contract falters, the free market holds steady: The color war has been a blessing for entrepreneurs. Hoping to reclaim ”the sunset, the oranges, and the warning signs,” as well as the carrots that some left-wingers have reportedly stopped eating, the group Katom Lo Politi (”Nonpolitical Orange”) has started selling tees emblazoned with the eponymous message. Jaffa businessman Roni Ratzon was even more enterprising: His textile cutting firm is manufacturing both blue and orange ribbons. ”I have no political opinion,” he told the Associated Press. ”I just want to make money.”

The Israeli anti-withdrawal movement’s deployment of the color has been so effective — and divisive — that the controversy has even reached American shores. In May, a row of protesters interrupted a speech by Ariel Sharon at New York’s Baruch College by flashing the prime minister with concealed orange tees. In Boston last month, 150 protesters gathered in front of the Israeli consulate to share orange juice and munch on orange sorbet from a nearby Ben & Jerry’s.

”Before the rally, the women were trying to figure out where to get orange,” said co-organizer Rabbi Dan Rodkin of Shaloh House Jewish Day School in Brighton, who excitedly announced that he was wearing an orange shirt when I called. ”I think they finally found some at Filene’s Basement.”

Maria Gofshteyn, a microbiologist who was at the rally, gently rebuked the Rabbi’s shopping instincts. ”Actually, Marshalls and T.J. Maxx will cover all your needs in orange,” she advised potential protesters. ”Orange goes very well with green and brown eyes, which are typical for Jewish women.”

The orange campaign has found advocates far beyond Jewish ranks. Pastor Jim Vineyard of the Windsor Hills Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, who opposes disengagement and toured Gush Katif with New York state Assemblyman Dov Hikind and a mostly Jewish group of supporters in June, immediately took to the color.

”I told Dov I’d come on one condition,” he said in a recent interview, ”which was that when me and all those Jewish folks stepped off the plane in Israel, we were going to be wearing orange shirts and caps. And we were.” Today, he says, there are orange signs all over Windsor Hills.

The proliferation of orange has reduced American supporters of disengagement to a kind of passive resistance. Getting ready for a wedding several weekends ago, a (Jewish) friend felt she had to leave behind her beloved orange shoes; the bride’s family was Arab, she explained to me, and she did not want to give the wrong impression.

”I’ve pretty much stopped wearing orange,” said the Orthodox Jewish blogger OrthoMom, who lives in the Five Towns area of Long Island and said she wished to remain anonymous. Members of her predominantly anti-disengagement community had misconstrued her intentions so often, and, when disabused, reacted with such disappointment, she said, that she has decided to shelve her orange outfits until the fall.

Even if they’ve almost certainly failed to prevent the withdrawal, the settlers have won the image war, though fashion designers perhaps shouldn’t rush to court a new market.

”It’s not like you see them wearing nicely cut orange fashions,” Yoram Dembinsky, the CEO of the Israeli branch of JWT, a global advertising firm, sniffed. ”Either they’ve got the head coverings or a huge orange shirt with no style.”

Published
January 14, 2005