Iraq’s representative at the 2017 Miss Universe pageant — whose Instagram photo last year with her Israeli counterpart forced her family to flee the Middle Eastern country — is visiting the Jewish state and has reunited with Miss Israel, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced on Tuesday.
“Friendly relations between Israelis & Arabs will definitely help in ushering in a better tomorrow for all of us in the Middle East,” Arabic-language spokesman Ofir Gendelman wrote on Twitter.
Iraqi-born Sarah Idan lives in the United States, but her family was forced to relocate from the Arab country after the photo of her with Israel’s Adar Gandelsman went viral last year.
At the time, she withstood considerable pressure and refused to remove the Instagram image.
In December, Idan spoke about her ordeal to CNN, recounting “scary” death threats and anxious calls to her mother back home.
Miss Iraq Sara Idan is currently visiting Israel & has reunited w/ Miss Israel, her old friend from the @MissUniverse pageant. Welcome to Israel!
Friendly relations between Israelis & Arabs will defeinitely help in ushering in a better tomorrow for all of us in the Middle East. pic.twitter.com/mOLKNv4IiZ
— Ofir Gendelman (@ofirgendelman) June 12, 2018
Idan said she “didn’t think for a second there would be blowback” when she posted a selfie to Instagram with Gandelsman.
Both women published the joint selfie on their Instagram pages, expressing a desire to promote peace, while participating in the Miss Universe International Beauty Pageant in Las Vegas.
But the response in Idan’s home country was swift and vicious.
“I woke up to calls from my family and the Miss Iraq Organization going insane. The death threats I got online were so scary,” she said.
Her Iraqi sponsors demanded that she remove the photo from her account.
“The director of the Miss Iraq Organization called me and said they’re getting heat from the ministry. He said I have to take the picture down or they will strip me of my title.”
Idan refused to take down the photo, though she did write a second post stressing the photo was 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,” she wrote, going on to apologize “to all those who consider [the picture] harmful to the Palestinian cause.”
But that clarification didn’t do much good.
“People in Iraq recognized my family, they immediately knew who they were. And they were getting death threats,” Idan said. “My mom was freaking out. I told her ‘Mom, just get out. Get out.’ I told her I’m sorry and asked if she wants me to leave the competition. I was ready to drop out right then.”