Contestants Miss Iraq, Sarah Eedan (R) and Miss Israel, Adar Gandelsman (L) pose together for a selfie, during preparations for the Miss Universe 2017 beauty pageant in Las Vegas, United States November 13, 2017.
(photo credit: SARAH IDAN/SOCIAL MEDIA/VIA REUTERS)
For several months in 2017, Sarah Idan was celebrated across Iraq for her beauty and grace as the Miss Iraq winner. But by the end of the year, she and her family were no longer welcome in the country after death threats.
What changed? A selfie of course – with her fellow Israeli contestant in the Miss Universe pageant.
Six months later, Idan is in Israel visiting the country and reuniting with her former competitor. And she is being greeted like a hero by the locals.
“Shalom/Salam from Jerusalem,” Idan posted on Instagram on Tuesday alongside a short video of her and Miss Israel 2017, Adar Gandelsman.
Idan toured the capital and also stopped by Azura, the Iraqi-Jewish restaurant in the Mahaneh Yehuda shuk, and chowed down on a plate of stewed okra, or bamya.
“I don’t think Iraq and Israel are enemies, I think maybe the governments are enemies with each other,” Idan said in an interview with Channel 2 News on Tuesday.
“With the people – there’s a lot of Iraqi people that don’t have a problem with Israelis with the Jewish people.”
Ofir Gendelman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman for the Arab world, praised Idan’s visit on Twitter in both English and Arabic.
“Miss Iraq Sara Idan is currently visiting Israel & has reunited w/ Miss Israel, her old friend from the @MissUniverse pageant,” he wrote on Tuesday. “Welcome to Israel! Friendly relations between Israelis & Arabs will definitely [sic] help in ushering in a better tomorrow for all of us in the Middle East.”
Idan arrived this week after being invited to take part in the American Jewish Committee Global Forum in Jerusalem.
The controversy began in November, when Idan traveled to Las Vegas with close to 100 other young women to compete in the Miss Universe pageant. There she met Gandelsman, and the pair hit it off. Both women posted selfies together on their Instagram feeds, Idan captioning hers: “Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel.”
The swift and harsh reaction in Iraq left Idan persona non grata in the country, and she has been living in Los Angeles ever since.
When the pair reunited in Jerusalem, Idan told Gandelsman she had always hoped to meet her again, but assumed it would be in Los Angeles - not in Jerusalem.
Neither Idan nor Gandelsman placed in the Miss Universe competition last year, but it’s clear they won something else entirely.