A pair of entrepreneurs say they’re helping Israel shed its negative image with their calendar of sultry, scantily clad female Israeli soldiers.

The photos range from (relatively) chaste — Miss March wears a sleeveless top and mini skirt, for example — to nearly nude, with Miss June reclining amid weapons and ammo with only carefully placed ammunition belts to keep the calendar pinup rather than porn.

Amnon Shenfeld and Ilan Missulawin are selling the calendar on indiegogo to fund their military-themed clothing company.

The goal is to raise $30,000 through sales of the $25 calendars and higher priced items, such as 14-karat gold dog tags for $600 or a 24-inch print for $200. In the two weeks since they launched, they’ve raised just over $3,500.

Keren Walsh, shown here, became a weapons instructor in the IDF after moving to Israel from Michigan at 18. Courtesy of MTKL

The pair is calling the company MTKL — a transliteration of the Hebrew acronym “Matkal,” the IDF’s General Staff unit. And while they make no bones about the fact that the venture is commercial, they argue that having sexy Israeli women gracing the walls of frat houses and sports bars can only help harsbara, Israel's public relations efforts.

“We think that we’re passing [along] something, which is young and interesting to look at because it’s sexy, because it’s funny and it gives a message that is easily relatable,” said Shenfeld during a telephone interview from his home in Tel Aviv. “And that’s good for our hasbara efforts, which are usually much heavier than these sorts of messages.”

Plenty of people disagree. There are those who argue the photos are degrading to women, others that it degrades Israel and/or the IDF and still others who point out that there’s nothing sexy about war.

The company’s fiercest critics are pro-Palestinian activists. Online, some conflate MTKL with the IDF or Israeli society:

“Boycott Boycott, this is shameful, I am no longer surprised at what level the IDF stoops too [sic], child killers, amoral, heartless, cruel, sociopaths,” reads one comment on an Al Jazeera blog post about the calendar.

Each model is shown with the job she held in the military. Courtesy of IDF

“Again evidence of the moral decay in the Zionist country of Israel,” reads another.

Other comments defend the company. “Shows the cultural differences between women. Israeli women seem equal to their men[,] which is to be applauded. If the women want to make a calendar thats [sic] their business, [Y]ou can either buy it or not,” said another comment on Al Jazeera.

The IDF declined to comment on the calendar, other than to confirm they had nothing to do with it and that the models are not "active duty soldiers."

Shenfeld, a 37-year-old software developer, defended the brand, pointing out that there’s no shortage of military-style clothing right now. Marc Jacobs introduced his own military-themed clothing during fashion week this year, he said.Critics say the calendar sexualizes violence while its creators counter that it shows women as strong and competent. Courtesy of MKTL

Pro-Palestinian supporters would never buy the clothing line anyway, Shenfeld, said, and he argued that the calendar is the opposite of degrading because is shows how strong and competent women can be.

“I can guarantee that all the women that participated in our calendar felt OK about being judged by their looks,” Shenfeld said. “But beyond this point, yes, we’re realistic. Fashion is sexy,” he said.

Missulawin, Shenfeld’s partner, said he knew the project would draw criticism, but he didn’t realize how much.

“We never imagined that it would be this controversial. I should have known better. My phone is every minute getting a beep with something very hateful,” from Facebook or Twitter, the 35-year-old former marketing consultant said in a telephone interview, also from his home in Tel Aviv.

Shenfeld said he found the models by searching social media for women who talked about their pride in serving in the IDF, including Ma'ayan, a camouflage specialist, shown here. Courtesy of MTKLBut Missulawin, who lived in the West Village for about 18 months while consulting for Macy’s, stands by his decision to make the calendar. “I truly believe in what we’re doing. I don’t think there’s any kind of cynicism here,” he said.

Keren Walsh, who is shown in the calendar posing in stilettos and holding a semiautomatic weapon, said she’s proud of her participation. “What we’re trying to do is create a different name, a different perspective for Israel,” the 25-year-old former weapons instructor said during a telephone interview from Michigan, where she was visiting her family.

A fashion design student in Tel Aviv, Walsh made aliyah on her own as soon as she graduated high school. She said firmly believes the calendar will help put a new face on Israel. “We want to represent Israel in a positive, fun, tasteful way,” she said. “To show that we are regular people.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAebVQ5DBT0

amyclark@jewishweek.org