A former Iraqi representative to the Miss Universe beauty pageant on Tuesday condemned Arab states for their criticism of Israel and said hostility to the Jewish state was rooted in anti-Semitism.
Sarah Idan’s family was forced to leave Iraq after sharing a photograph on social media of her posing at the 2017 contest in Las Vegas with Adar Gandelsman, who was representing Israel.
Iraq does not recognize Israel and the two countries are technically at war.
Idan has pushed back against critics of the photo, saying it was a message of peace, and last year visited Israel.
Speaking Tuesday in Geneva at a session of the UN Human Rights Council, Idan, who lives in the United States, spoke out against Iraq for not supporting her following the backlash over the photo.
“I was told to remove it and forced to denounce Israeli policies. I received death threats. Since then I can no longer return to my homeland. Why did the Iraqi government fail to condemn the threats, or allow my freedom of speech,” she said.
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الأسبوع الذي مضى قضيته بمؤتمر الامم المتحدة. الكلام الذي سمعته من سفير العراق لو كنت لا اعلم بوضع البلد من الداخل كان تخيلت العراق جنة على حسب وصفهم ???? راح اشارك خطاباتي عن قريب.. #صوتنا_وصل_لا_تقلقوا ✌????last week I spent at the @unitednations summit in Geneva. Touched on important issues and can’t wait to share my speeches soon! Love & Peace ✌???? #missiraq #unitednations #geneva #talkingpeace #womeninblack #womenempowerment
Idan said the Israeli-Arab conflict was not based on genuine policy disagreements but “deeply rooted in the belief systems taught in Muslim countries, which are anti-Semitic.” She said this “hatred and intolerance” was “reinforced by biased media,” pointing to coverage last month of fighting between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers.
“When I watched the news last month, why did they never report that the Hamas terrorist organization fired nearly 700 rockets at Israeli civilians in one weekend or that Hamas used Palestinians in Gaza as human shields,” Idan said.
“Why do they never condemn Hamas for initiating the attacks,” she continued. “Instead, they only show those killed by the response, in self-defense, and blame Israel.”
Idan also said she has been called a “traitor” for supporting peace with Israel and criticized Arab media outlets, which she charged “publish false translations of my statements.”
“I’d like to remind Arab countries that today you share more common interests with Israel than the terrorist militias,” she said. “Negotiating peace for both states isn’t betraying the Arab cause but a vital step to end conflict and suffering for all.”
Idan was invited to speak at the Human Rights Council by UN Watch, a pro-Israel monitor group.
During her visit to Jerusalem last year, Idan called for peace between Iraq and Israel, as well as a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying both nations ““have a right to co-exist in this beautiful land.”
While in Israel, Idan went with Gandelsman to Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, where she was warmly welcomed by locals, including Israeli Jews of Arab origin, who spoke with her in Arabic.
While Idan toured the market, she encountered numerous Israelis of Iraqi origin, one of whom told her she would like to go back to Iraq.
“Inshallah,” or God willing, was Idan’s answer.
She also recalled to Israeli television her first time meeting Gandelsman.
“She was scared of me when she first met me,” Idan said of their first encounter, adding that Gandelsman had told her “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,’” she recalled, smiling.
AFP contributed to this report.