A new pro-Israel ad has sparked controversy, not for its subject matter but for its star: Bar Refaeli.
The Israeli supermodel has come under fire for her appearance in the latest hasbara (public relations) campaign after an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson wrote a letter criticizing the casting choice. The reason? Refaeli's evasion of the country's compulsory military draft, which has become a standard coming-of-age experience for 18-year-old Israelis.
Israel's Channel 2 News reported the contents of the letter sent by spokesman Big. Gen. Yoav Mordechai to the Foreign Ministry Director:
"The choice of a representative who did not serve in the military as an official presenter on behalf of Israel, conveys the message that we ignore and forgive evasion of enlistment, and encourages identification, among youths of both sexes, with the success of those who did not enlist ... The IDF has been operating, in the last few years, in a variety of ways, to strengthen the value of IDF service, and to fight the phenomenon of enlistment evasion, in order to preserve the societal value that sees the IDF as the people's army.”
According to Israeli law, men are required to serve three years while women are required to serve two. Refaeli, however, found a conscription loophole by marrying a family friend in 2007 so that she could continue her already-successful modeling career. She went on to date Leonardo DiCaprio and pose for brands like Sports Illustrated magazine and Victoria's Secret.
This hasn't sat so well with many Israelis. When the blonde bombshell landed a lucrative campaign with Fox in 2008, a boycott was threatened, demanding that Refaeli complete her military service before appearing in the ads. Critics were assuaged when the fashion company promised that the model would visit hospitalized IDF soliders and encourage enlistment.
Then in 2010, Maj. Gen. Avi Zamir spoke out against the model during a speech at IDC when asked about Refaeli's lack of prominence in the country's public relations activities. "At the end of the day she needs to look at herself in the mirror," he said. "The military is a central part of our society."
Of course, rather than boost Israel's profile, the 27-year-old's appearance in the hasbara campaign has only reignited the national tension surrounding her so-called "draft-dodging." Refaeli acknowledged the controversy on her Instagram account, posting a photo with the caption, "You can use the clip for the Foreign Ministry or drop it, but my Instagram feed has more readers than Israel’s most popular newspaper [Yedioth Ahronoth]!”
What do you think of this latest backlash? Should the public just forgive and forget?
See Bar Refaeli's style: