The IDF Spokesperson’s Office sent an official letter to the Foreign Ministry on Sunday night, criticizing the latter’s use of supermodel Bar Refaeli in a new PR campaign to boost Israel’s image around the world.
The supermodel irked some Israelis and created controversy in 2003 when she opted not to finish her compulsory military service by marrying a family acquaintance whom she divorced soon after — a perceived slight some of her countrymen and women have still not forgiven. At the time, Refaeli stated that army service would interfere with her modeling career.
Refaeli was chosen last month to star in a new series of campaigns that aim to show Israel’s technological and innovative side.
In the IDF letter, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai urged the Foreign Ministry to consider “the negative message sent out to Israeli society from the inclusion of Bar Refaeli, who did not complete national service, as Israel’s representative in a public relations campaign.”
“In recent years, the IDF has been trying a variety of methods to improve the value of military service and to combat draft evasion, in order to preserve the moral dimension whereby the IDF is the people’s army,” the letter read.
Several years ago, the IDF led a campaign against celebrities who chose not to serve in the military. In 2010, Haaretz reported that then-IDF personnel directorate head Maj. Gen. Avi Zamir said, “Bar Refaeli shouldn’t appear in ads. And if she does, then don’t buy the products. That’s the answer.”
In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said the model’s past was irrelevant.
“Refaeli is considered one of the most beautiful women in the world and is widely recognized as an Israeli,” the ministry said in a statement. “There is no reason to bring up the past when it comes to a campaign of public diplomacy of this kind.”
“The question is, ‘Why did she not complete her military service?’ If it’s a question of evasion, then that’s a problem,” said incoming deputy foreign minister Ze’ev Elkin. “A symbol of the State of Israel cannot communicate values that are in contradiction with the values of the state.
“I don’t know the personal story of Bar Refaeli. I also don’t think it’s my job to investigate,” he told Channel 10. “I think the IDF knows the issue better than I do. If it complained, perhaps the whole thing should be reconsidered, but we certainly shouldn’t automatically dismiss.”
Refaeli acknowledged the brewing controversy in a Hebrew tweet Monday morning, writing, “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]!”
The tweet linked to a picture of a banner calling on US President Barack Obama to free imprisoned Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.