(Thanks to Geoff for this link)
I was watching CNN earlier this morning and saw some coverage of the latest Israeli foray into public relations. The geniuses at the Foreign Ministry apparently thought it was a good idea to invite Maxim magazine to do a photo shoot of Israeli models. An added incentive to bring in the obligatory puns ("women with guns") was that the featured models had done their military service in the IDF. The Maxim "Israel Defense Forces Issue" is due in stores on June 26.
Apparently, the New York consulate also promoted a gala event (actually, a Maxim Party), with consular officials in attendance; the advertisement featured a scantily-clad Gal Gadot. This, in turn, led to condemnations by MKs Colette Avital (Labor), the former consul-general in New York, and Zehava Gal-On (Meretz), who complained that
It is unfortunate that the New York consulate thinks that Israel's relevance will be expressed by the use of naked women who are treated as an object, and not as women of substance who exude achievement and success. It's a shame that the consulate has not understood that countries of the Western world cannot market themselves through the use of half naked women (Ha'aretz).I have a lot of respect for Gal-On and Avital. It's true that the campaign is unusual, to say the least. Furthermore, given some of the unfortunate positions in which certain Israeli ambassadors have found themselves over the years, a Maxim photo shoot is not exactly going to enhance respect for the Israeli diplomatic corps. However, I think they are wrong about this.
After seeing the CNN segment, I have to say that the whole campaign might not be such a bad idea. To be sure, the photo shoots are exploitative - so are 90% of the advertisements on our television screens and billboards. These women are professionals, and whoever thinks that they ought to have turned down a modeling shoot that promotes Israel (as opposed to Calvin Klein) should complain to their agents. I find the outrage misplaced, and I definitely think that any arguments appealing to the norms of "countries of the Western world" are rather silly here. There is nothing indecent about these models, just as there would be nothing unseemly about promoting Israel by showing clips from the Gay Pride parade in Tel Aviv. These models represent Israel as much as haredim praying at the Kotel.
The CNN anchors were obviously amused by the whole thing, and the segue from a clip on the Iranian decency police's clamp-down on women violating dress regulations was perfect (for Israel). Both reports featured beautiful and sympathetic young women. In one country, they were being punished for wearing revealing headscarves; in the other, they were being encouraged (and paid - by photographers) to strip to their underwear. I know that the pseudo-feminist, post-colonialists will be quick to equate the two situations as equally oppressive, but I doubt that the large majority of Americans will see things quite the same way.
Female Israel soldiers - fetishized almost as frequently as their male counterparts
(Jerusalem, June 2006)
(Jerusalem, June 2006)
These ads do show a face of Israel (and the Middle East) that is all too often obscured in the coverage of the region. The people in the New York consulate are on to something. While it may not appeal to all of our oh-so-refined tastes, sexy young people probably do a better job of promoting Israel to ordinary Americans than intellectuals - no matter how scintillating they may be. I think the blog that the consulate launched is also a good idea with potential. But who came up with the name, "IsRealli"?
On a related note: The last Israeli public relations venture that received some attention in the blogosphere was a local anti-drug campaign in Tel Aviv, which featured mock shaheed posters displaying a hipster in a training suit about to embark on a "suicide mission" of mixing drugs and alcohol. Lisa, fresh from a trip to Ramallah, where she took some photographs of the real thing, has coverage of this and many other great posts (An Israeli in Ramallah, Make Love not Terror, and Ivri goes English nice!). Also not to be missed, however, is Nobody's typically irreverent defense of the ad; he calls it "brilliantly cynical" - a description that also often applies to his blog.