Politico (July 22, 2008)
In a memo to reporters, described as “a few guidelines we sent staff before departure to the Middle East,” Obama advance staffer Peter Newell laid out rules on attire for Jordan and Israel. First among them: “Do not wear green.”
An Obama aide explained to reporters that green is the color associated with the militant Palestinian group Hamas. But while the color does appear on Hamas banners, there is no particular symbolism to wearing green clothes, experts said. Moreover, green is more generally seen as a symbol of Islam.
“A ban on wearing green seems bizarre,” said Richard Bulliet, a professor of Middle Eastern history at Columbia University, who said the color is associated with the family of the Prophet Muhammed. “I would hazard the guess that the campaign's concern is more with distorted—and religiously inaccurate—reporting by Obama's detractors than with any actual signal that might be conveyed,” he said, referring to false rumors that Obama is a Muslim. “You don’t want to have some blogger come along and say ‘Obama is showing his true color.’” “I think they’re just being overcautious to a ridiculous degree,” Bulliet said.
Mohamad Bazzi, a professor of journalism at New York University and former Middle East bureau chief for Newsday, called the instruction “very strange.”
“I guess green is the ‘Hamas color’ — but it's also the color of Islam!” Bazzi said in an email from Beirut. “That's one way for the Obama campaign to alienate 1.4 billion Muslims worldwide.”
Though the campaign’s other sartorial instructions – directing women to dress demurely – are fairly standard, Bazzi said he’d never heard it suggested before that journalists not wear green while traveling in the Middle East, an observation echoed by other reporters. “I’ve been to the Middle East with Secretaries of State and on my own, and I’ve never heard of anything like that,” said [American conservative newspaper] New York Sun national security reporter Eli Lake.
Obama’s trip was organized independently of the State Department, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice advised American embassies Thursday to avoid helping presidential campaigns with their foreign trips.
Hamas, the group that controls the Gaza Strip, flies a green flag, as do some other Islamist groups. But the color appears on a vast array of official symbols, including the Saudi flag. Jordan’s Queen Rania al-Abdullah has been pictured in green outfits.
Early images from Obama’s trip also suggested that the rule is being observed in the breech: One cameraman on the tarmac in Amman can be seen in a green checked shirt.