Miss Israel Adar Gandelsman, left, and Miss Iraq Sarah Idan, together during Miss Universe 2017 Photo: Instagram

 

Iraq’s representative at the 2017 Miss Universe competition has arrived in Israel, shocking millions across the Middle East. Last year, a seemingly innocuous selfie taken by Sarah Idan with her Israeli counterpart Adar Gandelsman stunned people across the Arab world, leading to Idan’s family fleeing their native country for America after receiving death threats.

26-year-old Idan, who had already moved to the United States, endured a massive backlash in 2017 after she posted the selfie with Gandelsman along with the words “Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel”.

Idan’s visit to Israel came about after the American Jewish Committee invited her for their recent conference in Jerusalem. AJC’s Israel chief Avital Leibovitz admitted that Idan had needed “several pretty long conversations to convince her to come to Israel”.

During her visit, Idan visited Jerusalem’s famous Mahane Yehuda market, and was cheered and embraced by Israelis, many of whom had an Iraqi family connection themselves. Repeatedly, she was thanked for her bravery in openly having a friendship with an Israeli.

One Israeli woman, of Jewish-Iraqi descent, told Idan of her hope to return to Iraq one day, to which Idan replied “Inshallah” (God-willing). “It actually felt weird — the people look like my people. And the city looks like Damascus, like Syria, and I’ve been there, so everything seems familiar to me,” Sarah Idan told Israeli TV.

Idan told Hadashot of her surprise at the hate generated by the photo. “I didn’t think it would blow up like this when I took this picture”, she said. “I lived for many years in the US, I have many friends who are Jewish or Israeli, I don’t think about people like that”.

The TV show captured the moment of Idan’s reunion with Gandelsman, and both women later posted photos together on their social media accounts. Subsequently, both women’s Instagram accounts were hacked.

Idan recalled the first time she and Gandelsman met, revealing that the Israeli candidate opened up to her, saying: “I’m scared to talk to you.”

“After that, we sat down and talked for hours and hours, and the Miss Universe staff got really angry at us, telling us ‘come on, we have a photo-shoot,’” smiled Idan.

“I can’t go to Iraq anytime soon,” as a result of the controversy, she explained, wistfully. “That’s a price I paid and also my family paid since they were forced to leave the country.”

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