For the second time in the last five months, Vice has run a bizarre, titillating photo spread of “girlish,” “teenage” Israeli soldiers that manages to be obtuse and borderline creepy at the same time.
- Photos From the Everyday Lives of Young Female Israeli Soldiers (3/15/16)
- The Defiant Femininity of Israel’s Female Soldiers (8/29/16)
It’s unclear what’s “defiant” about serving in the Israeli Defense Forces, but the breezy blurb accompanying the Mayan Toledano photo spread has some ideas:
As paradoxical as it may sound, Toledano’s photos reveal that what seems like these girls’ indifference is actually an expression of their autonomy. In a way, it’s their girly, teenage boredom that reflects a passive, sleepy protest against violence.
What this means is never made clear, but it would probably come as a surprise to those in Israel who actually refuse military service that serving in the IDF is a form of “protest against violence”—so long as one has pouty lips and “girly, teenage boredom.”
Some observers of the Israel/Palestine conflict have found these glamorous spreads offensive, saying they both normalize and glamorize a military that levels daily humiliations and violence aimed at Palestinians. Author and activist Steven Salaita said, “Vice again provides a hip, glamorous appeal to those who enforce Israeli settler colonization.” Journalist Zab Mustefa tweeted, “Another Vice story trying to normalize Israeli occupation by romanticizing female IDF ‘defiant’ soldiers.”
“It’s the hipster reboot of laddie mag apartheid propaganda,” added Max Blumenthal, author of Goliath.
What raises a red flag about these spreads is the similarities to previous pro-Israel marketing efforts, including one almost ten years ago when the Israeli Foreign Ministry paid for a photo spread in “men’s magazine” Maxim to improve the country’s public image (Jerusalem Post, 3/22/07):
“All the surveys we have done show that the biggest hasbara problem that Israel has is with males from the age of 18–35,” said David Saranga, the consul for media and public affairs at Israel’s consulate in New York. “Israel does not seem relevant for them, and that is bad for branding,” he said. “In order to change their perception of Israel as only a land of conflict, we want to present to them an Israel that interests them.” Which is where good-looking women in skimpy bikinis come in.
It’s unclear whether the Vice spreads are part of any subtle effort at “hasbara”—the Hebrew word for “explaining,” used to refer to Israeli PR or propaganda. The Maxim message (9/13/07) was typically unsubtle: “They’re drop-dead gorgeous and can take apart an Uzi in seconds. Are the women of the Israeli Defense Forces the world’s sexiest soldiers?” the copy read, under the headline “The Chosen Ones: Israeli Defense Forces.” But the impact of the Vice photospreads would seem to be similar–albeit with more of a hipster veneer.
The Israeli Defense Forces previously publicized their use of Instagram to sex up their image and present a youthful, relatable fighting force. As Benjamin Doherty of Electronic Intifada (12/26/12) wrote at the time:
During “Operation Pillar of Defense,” Israel’s eight-day bombing campaign on Gaza in November, which killed more than 170 Palestinians, including three dozen children, the Instagram outlet was exploited to disseminate photos of soldiers and square infographics specially formatted for Instagram.
In April 2016, Mondoweiss’ Dan Cohen (4/29/16) criticized Vice for passing off Israeli propaganda about IDF soldier Elor Azarya’s execution of a Palestinian as a “leaked report.” Vice (4/28/16) uncritically repeated claims that Azaraya was a one-off zealot while downplaying his popular support among Israelis.
Vice, it should be noted, also runs coverage sympathetic to Palestinians, or at least from a Palestinian perspective.
The last major offensive by the Israel Defense Force, Operation Protective Edge in 2014, killed almost 1,500 Palestinian civilians and wounded 10,000 more. In the same conflict, seven Israeli civilians and 66 IDF soldiers were killed.
Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst for FAIR.org. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamJohnsonNYC.