The 'uncomfortable' role model

Bar Refaeli may be one of Israel's most beautiful exports, but she's no public relations goldmine.

By NATHAN BURSTEIN
October 9, 2007 09:00
3 minute read.
Bar Refaeli 88 224

Bar Refaeli 88 224. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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For someone whose highest professional ambition is a contract with Victoria's Secret, Bar Refaeli may be drawing attention to the wrong physical feature - her mouth. For the second time in less than a week, Israel's top model has trashed her homeland in print, mouthing off this time in the October issue of England's Tatler magazine. "I'm not comfortable in Israel," the 22-year-old tells interviewer Camilla Long. "I just feel very uncomfortable." The six-page article, which accompanies a photo of Refaeli on the magazine's cover, follows a widely publicized Yediot Aharonot interview last week in which the 22-year-old expressed satisfaction at avoiding IDF service, saying that, "I don't regret not enlisting, because it paid off big time." The model also drew fire for another series of statements in the Yediot Aharonot piece, in which she asked her Israeli interlocutor, "Israel or Uganda, what difference does it make? It makes no difference to me... What, isn't it better to live in New York?" In her Tatler cover story, Refaeli builds on themes established in the earlier interview, blasting the Israeli press for how it treated the model and her boyfriend, actor Leonardo DiCaprio, during a visit to the country in March. "The paparazzi there are rude and they touch me," Refaeli says in the Tatler piece. "In Israel, everyone thinks they can do all sorts of stuff. They feel that they can talk to me, touch me, and say, 'Hold on a minute,' and I'll stop." The model, in her latest interview, does express one point of pride in her homeland: the fact that a generation of children, she says, may be named "Bar" because of her. "When I was born," she says, "nobody was named 'Bar.' But my mother was famous, and when I was born, a big article was published featuring my name in large print. Now loads of kids are called 'Bar,' boys and girls." While her Yediot Aharonot interview earned Refaeli a short burst of international media attention - the piece elicited write-ups by the Associated Press and the New York Post, among other news outlets - her comments created at least one awkward moment for her mother, Tzipi Levine, herself a former regular in Hebrew-language gossip columns. Yediot Aharonot's Web site reported Sunday that Levine had endured a chance encounter earlier in the day with the chairman of Yad Labanim, an organization dedicated to families that have lost loved ones killed in service in the IDF. According to the piece, Levine met the man, also a building contractor, as he did work near her family's home, and began to cry after learning his identity. "We love the country," Levine was quoted as saying, "and Bar visits wounded soldiers on a regular basis, and without anyone knowing." Told that the model's comments had "personally wounded" the Yad Labanim official, whose son died in a helicopter crash, Levin added that Refaeli will return to Israel for a visit on Friday and "will think then about how to respond" to the fallout from her interviews. But while her comments have turned public sentiment sharply against Refaeli, it's unclear whether they'll have professional consequences for the model, whose other magazine appearances include the covers of French Elle and the British edition of Maxim. Refaeli's Web site lists just one Israeli company, Irit Line clothing, among her current clients, alongside brands including Ralph Lauren and Italian swimwear and lingerie company Yamamay. A spokeswoman for Irit Line said Sunday that the company was declining to answer questions about its relationship with Refaeli, including whether it plans to keep the model on its payroll. Refaeli is reported to have received $400,000 for a two-year deal with Irit. The Hod Hasharon native represented her homeland free of charge last year at an international tourism fair in London. The model's participation drew criticism from some members of Israel's tourism industry because of her evasion of army service, but the country's tourism minister at the time, Labor MK Isaac Herzog, dismissed the issue, telling the media that "Bar is a leading Israeli brand name."

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