Mia de Graaf writes: In the UK, Big Brother is known for turning fame-hungry contestants – the Nadias, Chantelles and Jade Goodys of this world – into instant celebrities. Though normally no more high-brow, Israel’s equivalent has this year achieved a surprising twist, by making a superstar out of “Palestine sympathiser” Saar Szekely.
Szekely, 27, is the wild-card candidate whose stated objective was to voice leftwing views on prime-time television. In a house full of reactionaries and with a predominantly rightwing audience, Szekely’s mission looked certain to be short-lived. But for all the Facebook pages clamouring for his annihilation, the Tel Aviv-based artist has made it to tomorrow night’s final, and along the way become something of a heart-throb.
Entering the house in January, Szekely was, for the first few weeks, overshadowed by the usual extreme eccentrics – a newlywed couple, a prostitute, a “transfer-housemate” from Big Brother Argentina. Nine weeks into the show, however, his conversations started to get more air time, and have become the focus of the series.
“I like the way he expresses himself,” says one viewer, Shelly Malnick, 23, from Haifa. “I don’t agree with everything he says. There are harsh things he has said about soldiers that were really hard to listen to. But he doesn’t stoop to bickering – he has a backbone and he never steps down from a well-mannered discussion. That is why most Israelis love him.” It helps, she says, that he is “very good looking”. More leftwing viewers, needless to say, are smitten.
But it was the development of his unlikely friendship with housemate Eran Tartakovsky – a former Israeli army officer – that, according to the Maariv Daily’s deputy editor, Shai Golden, sparked Szekely’s success. “Eran embracing him was like giving him a kosher stamp,” said Golden.
Eran, who claimed in his audition tape to “hate Arabs more than I hate cancer”, was Szekely’s hawkish counterpart on the show. But the ploy backfired when the pair bonded: “They became close. It took the leftist extremism out of Saar and put the man in front.”
In the following clip, Szekely does most of the talking while Tartakovsky, the man in black shorts lying on his back, mostly listens.