GRUMPY OLD MAN: Raising the bar

A homegrown supermodel raises Israeli ire, but maybe we're overdoing it just a bit.

Bar Refaeli311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Bar Refaeli311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Bar Refaeli, the Israeli supermodel, raises a lot of things, including our hackles. She’s more beautiful than we are, a lot more shapely, makes oodles of money and gets to hang out with A-listers. What’s not to despise?
Worse, she’s no better than your young, garden-variety haredi male in that she didn’t spend a minute in the army or do any type of alternative service. While there has never been a “Bar Law,” the haredim were hit with the Tal Law, the ultimately ill-fated edict to which our haredi-less government, without too much exaggeration, can be traced. Life is certainly unfair.
Of course, unlike those yeshiva bochers , Refaeli had two good reasons not to enlist: (1) She was married and (2) the army doesn’t conscript married women. But it seems to have been an arranged marriage with a family friend, followed by a speedy divorce – call it a quickie with a ring, perhaps minus the quickie – the sole purpose being to evade the draft.
To add insult to injury, she once told an interviewer from the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot that she had no regrets about not serving, saying “it paid off big time.”
It certainly did. Just look at her bank account. And according to the readers of Maxim , a popular international men’s magazine that’s racy (though far from vulgar) and aimed at a demographic that’s hip and with-it (read: young and quite willing to throw away money on dumb, useless things), she’s No. 1 on the “definitive list of the world’s most beautiful women.”
Clearly, in Refaeli’s line of work, youthful looks and curves are every- thing. This means you have to get yourself out there early – say, at draft age, and even earlier.
“That’s just the way it is,” she told Yediot . “Celebrities have other needs.”
Tell this to Esti Ginzburg, probably the second-most-famous model the country has turned out in recent years. Unlike Refaeli, Ginzburg did her required military service – and the army gave her plenty of leeway to pursue her career at the same time. In fact, during this period she twice managed to grace the pages of Sports Illustrated ’s swimsuit issue, which, if you ask almost any healthy heterosexual male in the US or elsewhere, has to be the highest aspiration of any fashion model.
THOSE OF us who are not celebrities, at least on the level of Bar Refaeli, must shoulder many responsibilities. They start with army service but don’t end there. If we suffer no serious disabilities we must endeavor not to be a burden on fellow citizens by pursuing and maintaining gainful employment. Being employed further benefits the country through productivity or the provision of a service, and ultimately through income taxes.
Unfortunately, not everyone sees it this way. But that’s not what bothers me. What bothers me here is how much we complain about these people and, much worse, how they sour our own willingness to carry the burden. We’re always looking at others and then projecting onto ourselves. Call it the Freier (Sucker) Syndrome, which, if nations had national maladies, no doubt would be ours.
I wonder if Esti Ginzburg doesn’t feel like a freier. She’s a lot less well-known abroad than Refaeli; while she has made it onto the hallowed pages of Sports Illustrated ’s swimsuit issue, Refaeli made the cover. (I looked it up. I swear.) So when the Foreign Ministry decided to put together a promotional videoclip to show the world just some of the many things it encounters in daily life that have their roots in Israel, it turned to the draft-dodger and not the ex-soldier.
The problems began when the IDF’s top spokesman, Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, took umbrage and wrote a letter, later leaked, to the ministry.
“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,” Mordechai said. Refaeli’s appearance in the clip as “an official representative of Israel,” he wrote, sent a “negative message” to the country’s youth.
The spunky and, yes, supercilious Refaeli was nonplussed.
“Sometimes there are people with negative energy, but they have to sleep at night,” she told a reporter from Channel 2 who had caught up with her at a branch of Fox, the Israeli purveyor of youthful apparel whose stores feature blow-ups of her cavorting in its clothing. “I personally don’t lose any sleep over it.”
When Fox first signed Refaeli it attempted to head off complaints by saying that as part of her contract she would visit wounded IDF soldiers. But in 2009, when other local firms persisted in using her services, Elazar Stern, who previously had served as chief of the IDF’s Education and Youth Corps and today sits in the Knesset as part of Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua list, said he made it a policy to boycott them.
“I called the companies and the managers of those companies, and they told me, ‘That’s what the youths like,’” Stern was quoted as saying in 2009. “I told them our job is to stress what the youths should like, not what they like now.”
Obviously, that’s why Stern is an MK and not someone’s marketing director.
THE FOREIGN Ministry’s videoclip is not the first time Refaeli was enlisted by the government to boost the country’s image. In 2006 the Tourism Ministry used her services at a London gathering of travel professionals to pro- mote one of Israel’s most important industries. When this also met with howls of indignation the ministry fired back by calling her a “leading international brand name.” It didn’t hurt that she was in a high-profile relationship with Hollywood heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio at the time.
The DiCaprio thing, too, has stuck in the craw of some people here. After religious students sent a letter of protest to the Foreign Ministry over the videoclip, the Ynet website quoted haredi law student Eyal Cohen as saying: “We know that Refaeli had a publicized relationship with a gentile actor.... And in this way, she certainly doesn’t represent the Israeli public.”
Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor sought to deflect everyone’s righteous anger by explaining, as my Jerusalem Post colleague Herb Keinon so deftly put it, that Refaeli was simply “another one of those ubiquitous items – like a computer chip – that is made in Israel.”
So perhaps we should look at her the way we look at any export. After all, she spends most of her time these days in Los Angeles, far from our shores and daily consciousness, which is all right with me. And according to numerous reports she appeared in the videoclip gratis, as she did for the London tourism fair.
So unless she comes knocking at our door because she needs something, and as long as she doesn’t open her mouth to say anything of substance – she’s beautiful but, let’s face it, she’s no computer chip – let’s just wish Bar Refaeli well. At the same time let’s try to raise the bar for the way we instill in coming generations the value of national service, and also for the way we freiers react to every little silly thing that comes down the pike to make us feel like suckers.