Facing criticism at home, an Iraqi beauty queen on Wednesday defended her decision to pose for a photo with her Israeli counterpart and to post the joint selfie online, saying it was an expression of a desire for peace and not a show of support for the government of Israel.
“I want to stress that the purpose of the picture was only to express hope and desire for peace between the two countries,” wrote Miss Iraq Sarah Idan (in Arabic) in her latest Instagram post.
She added that the photo of the two Miss Universe contestants, which she did not remove from her Instagram account, “does not signal support for the government of Israel and does not mean I agree or accept its policies in the Arab homeland.”
Idan, whose website indicates she now lives in the US, went on to apologize “to all those who consider [the picture] harmful to the Palestinian cause.”
Idan explained that Miss Israel, Adar Gandelsman, initiated the photo, saying she hoped there would be peace between Jews and Muslims and that neither side would have to send their children to the military.
Idan said she faced “a lot of criticism” over the photo.
Some on Arab social media raged against her decision to be photographed with an Israeli, and the comments on her Instagram post were filled with curses at her for ostensibly hurting the Palestinian cause.
“You dishonor all of our people that died under their occupation. You Zionist shill,” one commentator on Instagram said. Another wrote: “F**k you ugly.”
Both Gandelsman and Idan published the joint selfie photos on their Instagram pages while participating in the Miss Universe International Beauty Pageant, in an unusual display of coexistence emanating from a divided Middle East.
Iraq and Israel do not have diplomatic relations and the two countries are considered enemies.
“Get to know, this is Miss Iraq and she’s amazing,” enthused Gandelsman in her Instagram post. “Practicing bringing world peace,” she wrote on Facebook, in time-honored beauty queen style.
“Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel,” wrote Idan on her instagram post, followed by heart emojis.
Both had well over 1,500 likes on the photo-based social network as of Wednesday evening.
In contrast to the Iraqi beauty queen’s defense of the photo with her Israeli counterpart as a message of peace, in a similar scenario in 2015, a Lebanese beauty queen said she was tricked into being in a photo with her Israeli counterpart.
“From the first day I arrived at the Miss Universe pageant I was very careful not to take any pictures with Miss Israel, who tried repeatedly to take pictures with me,” wrote then-Miss Lebanon Sally Greige wrote.
“While I was preparing with Miss Slovenia and Miss Japan to get our photograph taken, Miss Israel jumped in and took a selfie with her phone and posted it on social media.”
The selfie with then-Miss Israel Doron Matalon led to calls for stripping Greige of her title. It is illegal for Lebanese citizens to have contact with the Jewish state.
Lebanese critics of Greige pointed to Matalon’s service in the IDF.
Israel’s Gandelsman, 19, from Ashkelon, is currently in the middle of her military service “and is passionate about her duties with the force,” the Miss Universe website relates.
The 27-year-old Baghdad-born Idan now lives in the US, according to her website profile, and so may be freer to associate with Israelis at the pageant than other Arab contestants.
Both Gandelsman and Idan are at the Planet Hollywood resort in Las Vegas preparing to join the roughly 100 women who will be competing in the 66th Miss Universe competition at the casino resort on November 26.