Actor's rise to stardom has been near meteoric

Yousef “Joe” Sweid might just be Israel’s unlikeliest pinup. The breakout star of 2006, thanks to his perf in Eytan Fox’s “The Bubble,” playing in Berlin’s Panorama, and a recurring role in hugely popular TV sudser “The Champion,” Sweid has become something of a poster boy for cultural diversity in the country.

Not bad for an Israeli Arab from Haifa who only moved to Tel Aviv when he was 19.

“He’s the first Palestinian-Arab teenage idol. It’s the first time a 12-year-old Israeli girl fantasizes about an Arab man. I think it’s a really wonderful step forward,” says Gal Uchovsky, who wrote and produced “The Bubble.”

Sweid’s rise to stardom has been near meteoric. Now 30, thesp first came to the attention of Israeli helmer Fox following a small role in Fox’s 2004 box office smash “Walk on Water.”

When it came to casting the crucial role of Ashraf, an Arab who falls in love with an Israeli man, Fox and his writing-producing partner Uchovsky looked no further than Sweid. The result was a pic that generated many column inches and initially boffo box office until last July’s war saw a right-wing backlash against the film that accused it of being unpatriotic.

None of that seems to have affected Sweid’s popularity. His part as a soccer player in “The Champion” even led popular Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Aharanot to claim, “If only he weren’t an Arab, your mother would be happy for you to bring him home.”

The path to reconciliation might be rocky, but at least Sweid is on the road. As the thesp himself commented to an Israeli newspaper, “On principle I don’t say right off the bat that I’m an Arab because my national identity is not important. It’s my soul that’s important.”

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