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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 November, 2004, 16:14 GMT
Reality TV works on Israel's image
Sebastian Usher
BBC world media correspondent

Some of the contestants in 'The Ambassadors'
Contestants compete to promote Israel abroad
An Israeli TV station is to start broadcasting a novel kind of reality show this week in a quest for a new media-friendly Israeli face to present a more positive image of the country abroad.

The Ambassador show pits 14 young Israelis against one another in tasks designed to test their skills at selling Israel's image.

But even before its first broadcast, the series has caused controversy.

The deterioration of Israel's world image was underlined by a recent leaked Foreign Ministry warning that the country could find itself treated as a pariah state in a few years' time.

Innovative solution

A reality TV show may not seem the most obvious answer to the problem, but that is where the new, high-profile series The Ambassador comes in.

Palestinians carrying a wounded youth
Tension between Israel and the Palestinians has dented Israel's reputation
The winner will become the ultimate Israeli ambassador, travelling the world to burnish Israel's image.

The contestants were drawn from several thousand applicants who answered an advertisement in the Israeli press for a job in media relations in New York.

The final 14 were picked from a variety of backgrounds, including a settler family, Ethiopian Jewish immigrants and a strict religious family.

In an ad for the show, they are seen posing confidently against the backdrop of Capitol Hill in Washington.

They are among the most "talented, intelligent and motivated" people in Israel, according to the show's publicity.

Each week, they will be set a different task in a different country to test their ability to present Israel in a positive light.

One week, they argue Israel's case at Cambridge University; another, they are in Paris trying to sell holidays to Israel on the Champs Elysees.

A third task is to make a one-minute commercial advertising the delights of Israel to be aired on MTV.

One contestant is eliminated each week by a three-person panel made up of a former secret service chief, an ex-army spokesman and a leading political correspondent.


The producers originally wanted Israel's foreign ministry involved, but it withdrew, citing a conflict of interest with its own diplomatic training scheme.

Now, a US-based group called Israel At Heart is providing the final reward - an all-expenses paid year based in New York as a high-profile media director and spokesperson.

Israel At Heart is run by a New York businessman, Joey Low, who came up with the idea of sending presentable, articulate young Israelis around the world to put the country's case after watching an Israeli government spokesman stumble and make little impact on an American news show three years ago.

Israel At Heart has despatched several hundred such "ambassadors" around the world in the past couple of years.

But Joey Low's latest initiative has brought him into conflict with Israeli officialdom.

His criticism of professional Israeli spokespeople in the trailer for the Channel Two show has provoked an angry response from the Foreign Ministry.

In Israel's biggest-selling newspaper, Yediot Aharanot, a Foreign Ministry official condemned his remarks as outrageous, instantly creating an aura of controversy around the show before it has even started.

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