(Photo credit: Eliot Shepard)
Eytan Schwartz is the Bill Rancic of Israel, the champion of that country’s reality-TV obsession, The Ambassador. Only instead of winning some vague executive marketing job for Donald Trump’s property schemes, his prize is to be Israel’s diplomat-cheerleader to the United States.
“Israel already gets its daily spot in the American media, but it’s always about the conflict,” said Schwartz last week at a seaside Tel Aviv restaurant not far from where a Palestinian bomber recently killed five people. “My goal is to tell people about a ‘normal’ Israel where people eat pizza, go to parties, shop at Zara.”
Born on the Upper East Side, Schwartz, 30, moved to Israel with his family when he was 7. He came back to go to Columbia, then worked for an Israeli kids’ TV show. And before he became a contestant on The Ambassador, he was already well known as an entertainment reporter with Israel’s equivalent of Entertainment Tonight.
The fourteen contestants, initially divided up into teams, undertook such challenges as selling Red Sea vacation packages to French people on the Champs-Elysée. Judges, including a former Israeli Defense spokesman, then voted off weak links from each team. When the contestants were tasked with creating a fake tourism ad for MTV Europe, Schwartz came out on top with a clever spot featuring a hunky Israeli who tries to woo a hot blonde tourist on the beach. As she walks away, she bangs her head on a pole. The tagline appears as we see her with a Band-Aid: “Indeed, Israel can be a dangerous place.”
But the performance that sealed Schwartz’s deal was a mock Meet the Press–type show in which he masterfully sparred with (real) reporters from Dubai and Paris. His victory was declared February 20, in an episode that sent him off on a plane to New York. Despite the fact that he’s met Michael Bloomberg, Lloyd Grove, and Eliot Spitzer (though he was surprised to find the meetings not very schmoozy), he will not, when he returns to the city next month, have any official status, of course. Working with the midtown-based nonprofit Israel at Heart, Schwartz will spend a year explaining Israel and debating issues on campuses and at chicken-dinner events across the country.
Some Israeli opinion-makers have wondered if Israel would do better to send a more soldierly, more (stereo)typical Israeli to represent the country—rather than an American import, exported back to Gotham. “While it’s ironic the person chosen to serve Israel is American, in many ways Eytan is the ‘new’ Israeli,” says Talya Halkin, culture writer with the Jerusalem Post. “His polished shoes, slick suit and tie, and American glibness may have felt artificial to Israelis 30 years ago, but today they symbolize the kind of Israeli you need to be to survive in the global economy.”