Opinion |

Living Under the Oppressive Regime of Bar Refaeli

The giant billboards in which the supermodel preaches to Israelis about freedom could easily read: ‘Freedom in Israel is as fake as Bar Refaeli’

Alon Idan
Alon Idan
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Bar Refaeli wearing a niqab in the controversial 'Hoodies' ad.
Bar Refaeli wearing a niqab in the controversial 'Hoodies' ad.
Alon Idan
Alon Idan

Bar Refaeli is not a successful model; Bar Refaeli is a nagging thought. Like other nagging thoughts that impose themselves on people, Bar Refaeli imposes herself on us. There’s no way to be rid of her. She invades our consciousness again and again, in an endlessly repetitive cycle that can still sometimes seem to pop up without warning. What is supposed to be seen as “pretty” and “sexy” and “attractive” is really a form of obsession.

Now she’s shown up again on huge billboards. Wearing a niqab this time. The caption: “Iran is here.” After a few days, “the mystery was solved”: Beneath the niqab is the nagging thought. And the nagging thought wants us to shed our “Iranian-ness” – i.e., conservatism, enslavement, religious zealotry. In the video ad she removes the niqab and starts to move about easily in more comfortable clothes as a song with the lyrics “It’s all about the freedom” plays in the background. At the end of the commercial (for a particular brand of clothing), we see this slogan: Freedom is Basic.

Bar Refaeli's 'Hoodies' ad

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Here we have the unconscious infiltrating the consciousness as satire (or is it parody?): Bar Refaeli, who keeps taking over the public space with giant billboards, preaching to Israelis about freedom; the presenter who causes this feeling of claustrophobia wants to convey the message that “Freedom is basic,” that “It’s all about freedom.”

Bar Refaeli modeling Hoodies Credit: Eyal Nevo

Of course, Refaeli herself is not the subject. She’s just advertising clothes or glasses or what-have-you, she’s just a model, a businesswoman making money. But Refaeli as an image that gives no respite, that forces itself onto the collective consciousness at the same time as it preaches “freedom,” represents some kind of disorder.

A hint of this disorder can be found in the dissonance that Refaeli has been imposing on Israelis for years. Every few months, she’s saying to the public: “Look how beautiful I am”; in other words, she obsessively intertwines beauty with endless repetition, turning beauty into a kind of prison into which we are all thrown over and over again. Basically, Refaeli takes the natural essence and associations of beauty (ephemeralness, youth, freedom, rebellion) and turns it into a synthetic, superficial and hollow concept.

In the more fundamental sense, this seems to be the purpose of the Refaeli repetitiveness: To drain of all content the concepts that could tear away the plastic scenery that surrounds the Israeli, to make them meager and fake and meaningless.

Her “treatment” of the concept of freedom meets all of those criteria: The jailer tempts the prisoner to get out of his handcuffs and go free – because “it’s all about freedom” – while simultaneously closing him in and ensuring he has no way to escape. She suggests that the prisoner move around “freely” but only within the narrow walls of the prison.

Refaeli modeling glasses. Credit: Eyal Nevo

Bar Refaeli is a nagging thought that has survived for so many years because she has an important role: reminding the public of the illusion that envelops it – the illusion of freedom, the illusion of beauty, the illusion of youth. Thus “Iran is here” is a slip of the tongue: For if “Iran” is a metaphor for the illusion of freedom, then yes – Iran is here. The billboard could just as easily have said: “Freedom in Israel is as fake as Bar Refaeli.”

Beauty minus beauty, freedom minus freedom, youth minus youth – In Israel, concepts are continually being denuded as a defensive action. Without realizing it, the Israeli is required to live a constrained life while regarding it as a normal and full life (“the happiness index”). But underneath this life in Israel the fear of death is always rumbling. And Bar Refaeli appears again and again as part of the unconscious fight to keep this fear repressed. An attempt to replace the anxiety with “beauty” and “seduction” and “sex” (or libido, that is, though since Bar Refaeli is not really libidinal – even this concept is emptied of content – the replacement never really manages to shake off the anxiety.

That is to say that Bar Refaeli survives for so many years because Israelis still refuse to dive all the way into the repression. They insist on keeping a little bit of anxiety to remind themselves that life here is really constrained).

Bar Refaeli reaches her peak as a presenter of repressed anxiety at the airport. There she is the absolute star. Like in a nightmare, wherever the prisoner turns, he finds the jailer’s pretty face staring at him. “Dear Israeli,” she reminds him over and over, “enjoy the Duty Free, buy your family lots of sweets and alcohol, but don’t forget the most important thing: Although the plane will take off soon, you cannot go free. In the end you’ll always come back here, to me, to the nagging thought, to the beautiful prison, to Bar Refaeli.”

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