Miss Iraq and Miss Israel reunite after viral selfie sparks death threats

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Moya Crockett
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Sarah Idan had to flee Iraq after she posted a photo of herself with Adar Gandelsman on Instagram – but the pair have now met again in Jerusalem.

Two Miss Universe contestants have reunited, six months after a selfie showing them together led to one of them receiving death threats.

Sarah Idan was representing Iraq at the Miss Universe pageant in Las Vegas in November 2017 when she befriended Adar Gandelsman, aka Miss Israel. She posted a photo of the pair together on Instagram, accompanied by the caption “Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel”.

While the photo might seem innocuous enough, it prompted a furious response from some people in Israel and Iraq. The two Middle Eastern countries have technically been at war for 70 years, ever since the independence of the State of Israel was declared in 1948, and Iraq – which has always refused to recognise Israel’s statehood – is deemed an “enemy state” under Israeli law.

As a result, Idan’s photo was interpreted by some in Iraq as an endorsement of Israel and its occupation of Palestine (just this week, the UN General Assembly condemned Israel for excessive use of force against Palestinian citizens). The backlash to her post was so fierce that she and her family allegedly received death threats, and were forced to leave Iraq and relocate to the US – which is itself a longstanding Israeli ally.

However, the two women have now met again in Israel. Idan posted another photo and a video on her Instagram page this week, with the captions “Sisters reunion” and “Shalom/Salam from Jerusalem”. 

Idan and Gandelsman later appeared on stage together at an event hosted by the AJC (American Jewish Committee) in Jerusalem. 

Gandelsman shared a photo of the pair hugging, accompanied by the caption: “We had the whole crowd standing for us as an act of respect for the change we want to bring! Spread the LOVE”. 

According to BBC News, the two women also toured Jerusalem and ate at an Iraqi-Jewish restaurant in the city’s Mahane Yehuda Market.

“I don’t think Iraq and Israel are enemies, I think maybe the governments are enemies with each other,” Idan told Israel’s Channel 2 News. “But there’s a lot of Iraqi people that don’t have a problem with Israelis.”

Iraqi passports are invalid to enter Israel and vice versa, and it is believed that Idan travelled to Israel as a US citizen (she has dual US-Iraqi nationality). Her visit was welcomed by the Israeli government, including spokesman Ofir Gendelman, who wrote on Twitter: “Friendly relations between Israelis and Arabs will definitely help in ushering in a better tomorrow for all of us in the Middle East.”

While Idan has always refused to take down the original photo of herself with Gandelsman, she did apologise in November to anyone who interpreted as a sign that she did not support Palestine.

“I would like to apologise to anyone who considered the photo to be offensive to the Palestinian cause as this was not the aim behind the post,” she wrote in a follow-up message on Instagram.

“It was merely a call to peace and hope for a solution to the crisis.”

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