Miss Iraq and Miss Israel reunited after selfie controversy

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Miss Israel and Miss Iraq Image copyright Sarah Idan/Instagram
Image caption Sarah Idan (right) captioned her 2017 pageant selfie “Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel”

Six months ago, a simple selfie between two Miss Universe contestants provoked a backlash that pushed one to flee her home country, her family in tow.

Sarah Idan was representing Iraq at the 2017 pageant in Las Vegas when she snapped a picture with Miss Israel, Adar Gandelsman, and posted it online.

In the caption, she wrote “Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel”.

But some people in Iraq did not see it that way and, she said, sent her death threats.

Iraq and Israel have no diplomatic relations, and Ms Idan’s message was interpreted by some as an endorsement of Israel and a betrayal of Palestinian Arabs.

“When I posted the picture I didn’t think for a second there would be blowback,” she told CNN at the time. “I woke up to calls from my family and the Miss Iraq Organization going insane. The death threats I got online were so scary.”

Ms Idan and her family relocated to the US, but on Monday she was reunited with Ms Gandelsman in Israel, where the two posted fresh pictures online. Ms Idan posted a photograph and a video on her Instagram page, with the caption “Sisters reunion”.

Ms Idan, who eventually didn’t place in the Miss Universe contest, toured part of Jerusalem and ate at an Iraqi-Jewish restaurant in the Mahane Yehuda shuk.

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

Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said he welcomed her visit.

“Friendly relations between Israelis & Arabs will definitely help in ushering in a better tomorrow for all of us in the Middle East,” he wrote on Twitter.

Back in November, Ms Idan refused to take down her original selfie, despite what she said was pressure from the Miss Iraq organisation, but she did add a follow up post saying she had not intended to cause offence.

“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, it was merely a call to peace and hope for a solution to the crisis,” she wrote.

When she appeared at the 2017 pageant she was the first Miss Universe contestant to represent Iraq for 45 years.

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