TV show seeks amateur diplomat to spread pro-Israel message

jerusalem (ap) | Mindful of Israel’s poor international image, a local television station has come up with a unique idea for a reality show — get 14 contestants to represent the country before hostile foreign audiences, and choose the best to spread pro-Israel messages throughout the world.

“Hashagrir,” or “The Ambassador,” which debuted Nov. 24, plays into a classic Israeli pet peeve: that the country’s diplomats invariably fail to convince foreign audiences that Israel is in the right in its dispute with the Arabs.

Criticism of Israel’s Foreign Ministry is almost an obsession among Israelis — reflecting a widely held belief that Israel’s policies are unassailable, and if they were just explained correctly, the world would support them.

The format of “Hashagrir” is similar to American reality TV programs like “The Apprentice,” with an expert panel giving a designated loser marching orders at the end of each episode.

A news release from the producers said the TV program and prize — a position with a U.S. Jewish organization — would be nonpolitical, but the first episode concentrated on the touchiest of the Middle East’s political conflicts.

The 14 contestants, picked for their potential to be attractive envoys, are young adults, including a lawyer, a communications student, a graduate student in chemistry and immigrants from Holland, Ethiopia and the United States.

“Hashagrir” is the brainchild of the Keshet Production Company, a leading supplier of programs to Channel Two, one of two Israeli commercial channels.

Keshet spokeswoman Tali Goren said the program had no connection to the Israeli government, but that in emphasizing Israel’s poor international image, it was dealing with the country’s “foremost policy challenge.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev would not say what the Israeli government thought about the idea that a group of amateurs might do a better job than official representatives in presenting Israel’s case abroad.

“The spokesman at the foreign ministry has many functions, but none of them include being a television critic,” he said.

Goren said the winner of “Hashagrir” will spend a year working for a New York-based Jewish organization explaining Israel’s policies in Europe and the United States.

“We mean to pick the best person we can for the job,” Goren said. “It’s very important work.”