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Interview'I’m a proud Israeli, I’m a proud Zionist'

Why an intern at Israel’s Mission to the UN judged this week’s Miss Universe pageant

At 21, social media star Emily Austin served as a judge at the annual beauty pageant, in between sports reporting gigs and an internship with Gilad Erdan’s team in New York

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

  • Emily Austin at the 71st Miss Universe competition in New Orleans on January 14, 2023. (Courtesy)
    Emily Austin at the 71st Miss Universe competition in New Orleans on January 14, 2023. (Courtesy)
  • Emily Austin interviewing NFL star Aaron Jones of the Green Bay Packers at the Super Bowl in Los Angeles in February 2022. (Courtesy)
    Emily Austin interviewing NFL star Aaron Jones of the Green Bay Packers at the Super Bowl in Los Angeles in February 2022. (Courtesy)
  • Emily Austin (center) with Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan (right) at a World Jewish Congress event in New York City. (Courtesy)
    Emily Austin (center) with Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan (right) at a World Jewish Congress event in New York City. (Courtesy)
  • Emily Austin interviewing NBA player Chet Holmgren of the Oklahoma City Thunder. (Courtesy)
    Emily Austin interviewing NBA player Chet Holmgren of the Oklahoma City Thunder. (Courtesy)

While Emily Austin is used to wearing many hats, this past weekend the 21-year-old was on the same stage as one of the world’s most famous crowns: Austin served as one of the judges at the Miss Universe pageant in New Orleans on Saturday, helping select Miss USA as the winner of the 71st annual event.

Austin, who appears equally comfortable in sequins, sportswear or suits, is also a student and a sports journalist. And, since September, the daughter of Israeli expats is an intern at the Israeli Mission to the UN, headed by Gilad Erdan.

While a student at New York’s Hofstra University, Austin was known for her pro-Israel activism. A classmate suggested she might want to work for Israel’s diplomatic envoys.

“It’s not something that I had ever considered, but it wasn’t something that I was opposed to,” Austin told The Times of Israel in a recent phone interview.

Since landing the gig, she said, she helps formulate social media posts, attends speeches at the UN and consults on their media strategy.

“I really help out on the communications stuff,” she said. “Everyone has a title at the mission, but everyone likes to help one another.”

Emily Austin (center) with Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan (right) at a World Jewish Congress event in New York City. (Courtesy)

With more than 1 million followers on Instagram, over 500,000 on TikTok and an impressive array of media credits and modeling gigs to her name, Austin is perhaps the archetype of Gen Z celebrity.

During the pandemic she launched a web series interviewing athletes, managing to boost the show’s profile with every star player who agreed to appear.

That success led her to a series of sports media gigs, taking her all the way to last year’s Super Bowl, and along the way appearing at basketball, football, swimming and boxing events as a host and sideline reporter.

Emily Austin interviewing NFL star Aaron Jones of the Green Bay Packers at the Super Bowl in Los Angeles in February 2022. (Courtesy)

When she got a call asking her to serve as one of the seven Miss Universe judges, she was immediately on board — even if the concept of beauty pageants has fallen out of favor in recent years.

“It’s not a beauty contest. Arguably, the most beautiful girl does not win every year,” said Austin, who herself competed in the Miss New York contest several years ago. “Definitely the interviews weigh heavily, I could see how it really could make or break” each contestant.

Israel hosted the 2021 Miss Universe contest in Eilat, but this year opted not to participate in the global competition. Israel did not host an annual Miss Israel contest last year despite holding one every year since 1950. It is unclear if it will return to doing so in the future.

Austin said she believes it was a mistake for Israel to bow out of the contest.

“I still am not fully sure why” it didn’t participate, she said. “Whatever it was, I think it was a missed opportunity to unify the country, even for one night… The fact that Israel didn’t participate this year — I felt unrepresented.”

India’s Harnaaz Sandhu waves after being crowned Miss Universe 2021 during the 70th Miss Universe pageant, December 13, 2021, in Eilat, Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Born in New York to Israeli parents, Austin grew up with a deep love of Israel, visiting “at least once a year.”

“I always make it a point to go. I spent my 21st birthday there,” she said. And she has long been a public and proud defender of the Jewish state, even when it garners her online hate.

People have sent her messages like “You dirty Jew,” and “Hitler should have done better,” said Austin. She also noted that after her loss at the Miss New York pageant, a fan in the audience told her to her face that she didn’t win because she “didn’t look Aryan.”

Austin — who is working on an upcoming NBA show called “Hoop Chat” as well as on a docu-series about New Yorkers with comedian Tracy Morgan and radio host Angela Yee — said she has always been open about her pro-Israel activism, even if it closes some doors.

Emily Austin interviewing NBA player Chet Holmgren of the Oklahoma City Thunder. (Courtesy)

“If you look at my social media you’ll know right away that I’m a proud Israeli, I’m a proud Zionist — and that might deter someone from reaching out,” she said.

And as someone who came to fame for her love of the NBA — which she developed while living in Miami and competing in tennis — Austin said the recent antisemitism scandal surrounding Kyrie Irving was particularly troubling.

“I met him, I wore my Star of David when I met him, I never took him to be an antisemitic guy,” said Austin of Irving. “But his unwillingness to apologize” was upsetting.

“This new wave of ‘Kanye was right’ is really unfortunate,” she added, a reference to virulently antisemitic comments made recently by rapper Kanye West. “It was an eye-opener for me… the number of people agreeing with him was very concerning.”

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