Women lawmakers in Israel's Knesset have criticized the foreign ministry for resorting to "pornography" to promote Israel abroad after a feature appeared in the men's magazine Maxim featuring four former soldiers photographed in their underwear.
The magazine carried the article, The Women of the Israel Defence Force, in its July issue after encouragement from the Israeli consulate in New York as part of its broader campaign to improve Israel's image abroad.
Most Israeli women do compulsory military service for two years from the age of 18. While they do not fight in combat units, they undergo basic training and can be seen at checkpoints in the West Bank.
In the magazine, one of the women, Yarden, describes how she enjoyed firing her M16 rifle before she entered the military intelligence corps, while Nivit says her job in intelligence was so secret that she cannot talk about it. There is nothing military about the photographs, however, which are taken in different locations in Tel Aviv.
Zahava Gal On, the leader of the Meretz party, said it was inappropriate for western countries to market themselves using half-naked women.
"It is unfortunate that the New York consulate thinks that Israel's relevance will be expressed by the use of naked women who are treated as an object, and not as women of substance who exude achievement and success," she said.
Colette Avital, of the Labour party, described the article as a "pornographic campaign to encourage tourism."
In a statement the magazine said: "Maxim was approached by the Israeli consulate to be a part of reshaping Israel's public image, specifically because of our unmatched mainstream reach to men aged 18 to 35. We are pleased with the result of our work together."
It is not the first time that Israel has used sex to sell itself. The Israeli ministry of tourism has an advertising contract with Arsenal FC in London to promote Israel which features women in swimsuits.
Israel is keen to sell itself as a western country with beaches and nightclubs rather than a country full of religious zealots which has been in a permanent state of emergency since its creation.
The Israeli government also has a MySpace page to promote its image and tourism.
Staff at the consulate said that they decided a photoshoot would be a good way of promoting Israel to young Americans.
David Dorfman, an adviser at the consulate in New York, said: "Males that age have no feeling towards Israel one way or another, and we view that as a problem, so we came up with an idea that would be appealing to them."
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