Bar Refaeli & Brand Israel

Bar Rafaeli is a glamorous and incredibly sexy 23-year old Israeli model who recently solidified her status as a supermodel by gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated’s 2009 legendary Swimsuit Edition.

Bar Refaeli

Rafaeli’s cover naturally caused a stir in the Israeli media who “were thrilled that another of [theirs] had made it big abroad.” Ms. Rafaeli though it not new to the spotlight in her country. She is the daughter of a famous entertainer and is in a relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio.

In the wake of the cruel photos that emerged from Gaza, many Israelis hope that the image of a young and fun-looking Israeli model would challenge the image of their nation – particularly in Europe – as being a militarized, religious and atavistic society.

And the Foreign Ministry is certainly aware of the marketing potential Rafaeli – if willing – has for Brand Israel. Brand Israel [hasbara] is an Israeli Public Relations effort – started under Tzipi Livni – to present a more appealing image of Israel beyond the pictures one sees in the news of Israeli troops occupying and often killing Palestinian civilians. The most prominent effort of Brand Israel so far has been the sponsoring of a Maxim – an American men’s sexual though non-pornographic magazine – photo-shot featuring beautiful and sexy former IDF female soldiers. The effort apparently had an effect as the same respondents recorded that after seeing the shot they viewed Israel as a more liberal society akin to the United States.

Will Ms. Rafaeli allow herself to become a part of Brand Israel? It remains unclear, and Ms. Rafaeli is not a particularly patriotic Israeli. Bar avoided military service, and although she stated that she wanted to serve in the IDF she goes on to question the whole purpose of dying to preserve the Zionist state:

“I really wanted to serve in the IDF, but I don’t regret not enlisting, because it paid off big time,” she said. “That’s just the way it is, celebrities have other needs. I hope my case has influenced the army.

“Israel or Uganda, what difference does it make? It makes no difference to me. Why is it good to die for our country? What, isn’t it better to live in New York? Why should 18-year-old kids have to die? It’s dumb that people have to die so that I can live in Israel,”

Further, Ms. Rafaeli intends to spend most of her time in Los Angeles rather than Tel Aviv, a move due in part to the intrusiveness of Israeli photographs who cannot keep their hands to themselves. It must be the IDF training that breeds Israelis who believe they can place their hands on another human being:

Bar Refaeli

“It’s easier with the paparazzi in Los Angeles, because they give you more space and don’t push you or touch you. I believe I will never only live in Israel, so Los Angeles will be home at least for the next few years,”

“In Israel, the photographers nudge me in the shoulder and ask me to pose. Enough already, don’t touch me, I’m not your friend.”

Whether she willingly partakes in PR or not, will the image of Rafaeli be a boost to the image of Israel? Haaretz journalist Aluf Benn questions the whole mantra of relying on superficial public relations to improve Israel’s image while simultaneously continuing to occupy and oppress the Palestinians:

Israel’s public-relations machine has tried for many years to market Israel as a villa in the jungle, a Western frontier outpost against extremist Islam. We are hit by rockets in Sderot and bomb Gaza in order to save Paris and London. Israeli leaders complain that the West is unconcerned by the danger posed by Islam, and instead of dealing with it they criticize Israel for defending itself. But the media and public opinion in the West ignore this message and insist that Israel is at least as violent as its enemies.

Bar Refaeli is expected to prove that Israel is like the West. The young women of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas are not photographed in bathing suits. Neither are Egyptian or Saudi Arabian girls – an advantage perhaps that stresses our belonging in the Western cultural club. In Israeli eyes, a photo of Refaeli on an airliner makes us more American and Western.

But it is doubtful whether this message is being received on the other side. No Russian model softens the Putin regime’s aggressive image in the West; no Venezuelan beauty queen transforms Hugo Chavez into a liberal and democrat. Refaeli deserves credit for her personal success, and the branding project needs to continue, but they will not solve Israel’s public-relations problem. Whoever wants to belong to the West needs to behave accordingly, or pay the price.[Bold mine]

Well said. It remains to be seen whether Israel will alter its behavior. As for now, anyhow, at least both Arabs and Jews can enjoy the photos.

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