When Sarah Idan posted a selfie on Instagram with her new friend at the Miss Universe pageant, she certainly didn’t expect to spark an international incident.
But because Idan, Miss Iraq, took the photo with Miss Israel, the photo set off a backlash from officials and online commenters that included death threats.
“When I posted the photo, I didn’t really expect that it would create this much of a controversy,” she said.
Speaking on CNN International on Thursday, Idan retraced the events of last month’s Miss Universe pageant in Las Vegas. On November 13, she posed for a selfie with Miss Israel, Adar Gandelsman, during a pre-pageant photo shoot. Both contestants then posted photos of the encounter
“Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel,” Idan wrote as the caption, adding several heart emojis.
The international selfie caused swift blowback due to the fraught relations between Iraq and Israel, which do not have formal diplomatic relations. Idan said she woke up to phone calls saying people were going crazy and making death threats online.
She was ordered to delete the photo by the Miss Iraq organization’s director, but she refused to do so, she told CNN.
“I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong,” she said.
She did, however, post a second Instagram saying that she doesn’t support the Israeli government or its policies in the Middle East, and she apologized for “anyone who thinks it’s an attack for the Palestinian cause.”
Idan, who has dual US and Iraq citizenship, said her family fled Iraq in the wake of the blowback.
She said she was “a little bit disappointed” in the Iraqi government because they have not said anything official about the incident and no one has reached out to her. “For me the whole thing is strange,” she told CNN. “I was expecting like at least a statement from the government saying, OK we approve, or we don’t approve, but I haven’t heard anything yet.”
In a statement to CNN, the Miss Iraq organization said that while the group was supportive of Idan, it didn’t have the funding to provide for all her needs.
“In terms of the picture with Miss Israel, we (sic) got a strong attack from the Iraqi street but (sic) we did not say we would strip her title. We told her to clarify what happened,” the organization said.
Idan said that statement was “false” and said the organization had threatened to take her title away. “The government has been scary quiet. And when they’re this quiet, you don’t know what waits for you at home,” she said previously.