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(photo credit: courtesy)
If the highest possible achievement of a PR campaign is lots of free publicity, Israel's New York consulate can congratulate itself on a job well done. Mission more than accomplished.
Media outlets across the Big Apple were abuzz this week about the consulate's unofficial summer tourism campaign, which went public Tuesday night with the launch of the latest edition of Maxim magazine, the high-circulation "lad mag" famous for its disquisitions on beer and video games and - above all else - images of scantily clad models and actresses.
Drawing special attention in the magazine's July issue was a photo spread honoring "Women of the Israeli Defense Forces" [sic], a series of pictures more visibly concerned with cleavage than Israeli defense policy. "They're drop-dead gorgeous and can take apart an Uzi in seconds," reads the text accompanying the photos. "Are the women of the Israeli Defense Forces the world's sexiest soldiers?"
Like efforts to hold a gay pride parade in Jerusalem, the Maxim photo spread, shot with organizational assistance from the New York consulate, had all the makings of a media-friendly scandal - more, even, thanks to those eye-catching photos.
Labor MK and former New York consul-general Colette Avital quickly took the bait, denouncing the campaign as "pornographic" and telling Yediot Aharonot, " Israel's image has been tainted by sex scandals involving high-ranking officials as it is. I wonder if the best way to encourage tourism is by advertising sex."
Never shy about covering such issues, New York's biggest daily tabloids, the Post and the Daily News, quickly jumped in with articles of their own, while the usually more refined New York Times stuck with coverage (and a photo) on its Web site.
The Associated Press produced its own write-up of the controversy, while influential online media review Gawker.com challenged readers to improve on the headline accompanying the New York Post's coverage of the issue, "Piece in the Middle East." (Suggestions included "Jew See The Cans On That Chick?" and "Hear, O Israel, This Chick Has a Bod.")
Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich, for his part, publicly clarified that his office had no involvement in the photo shoot, and will now see how his ministry's recently announced $11 million North American marketing campaign, stacks up against the Maxim spread.
While the Tourism Ministry's official campaign will focus on attracting tourists from a wide range of demographics, "Women of the Israeli Defense Forces" is aimed at men between the ages of 18 and 35, David Saranga, the New York consul for media and public affairs, told The Jerusalem Post before the March photo shoot.
Israel's hotel chains and eateries will no doubt be pleased if the country's beaches fill up this summer with an unusually high number of leering, beer-guzzling young American men, members of Maxim's estimated 2.5 million man readership. And thanks to the widely covered efforts of Israel's representatives in New York, the rest of the country will know exactly who's responsible.