Volume of protests opposing Israel's hosting of Miss Universe surprisingly turned down - comment

It would have been reasonable to assume that many nations which have been historically unfriendly or even hostile toward Israel

 MISS UNIVERSE Andrea Meza visits the Tower of David and Old City walls as she tours Jerusalem during her official visit ahead of the Miss Universe pageant in Eilat. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
MISS UNIVERSE Andrea Meza visits the Tower of David and Old City walls as she tours Jerusalem during her official visit ahead of the Miss Universe pageant in Eilat.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

I admit that until I accidentally came across a small news item that the South African government has been pressuring its representative to the upcoming Miss Universe beauty pageant, Lalela Mswane, to forego her participation as a sign of protest against Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, I had forgotten that the pageant was to be held in Eilat. Scheduled for December 13, this is certainly one of the larger and most highly anticipated international competitions. Not on par by any means with the Olympics – summer or winter – or World Cup, it nonetheless commands more attention than the Eurovision competition and will send a clear signal to the world that Israel is more than ready to assume the spotlight position on the world stage.

That Israel was chosen to be the host for this extravaganza mainly due to its highly successful management of the pandemic crisis makes no difference; Israel can only benefit from hosting the festivities. In addition to reminding the world of its iconic position as the Holy Land for three major religions, the panoramic shots of the Mediterranean that millions of viewers will be treated to will most assuredly make this a memorable event.

Not that what has been going on – as well as not going on – is without unexpected oddities. South Africa’s belligerency, for example. I’m not unaware that the country has issues with what it believes is Israel’s “colonial-like treatment” of the Palestinians, but I was surprised that it reached BDS levels. Indeed, that a nation which knows full well what apartheid is should charge Israel of exercising similar policies and deny the Arab population on both sides of the green line human and civil liberties demonstrates a remarkable and unsupported bias.

And while there was some initial and not unexpected protest regarding the selection of Israel as the venue for this popular event, the volume of the noise has, for the most part, been toned down. It would have been reasonable to assume that many nations which have been historically unfriendly or even hostile toward Israel would have used this as a golden opportunity to exert pressure on Jerusalem and insist, as compensation for their participation in the pageant, on the removal of many of its security-related restrictions and that imprisoned terrorists be granted reduced sentences if not outright pardons.

Such assumptions would have proved premature; it seems that only two countries – Malaysia and Indonesia – have indicated that they object to Israel being selected as the host for the competition on political grounds and will be absent from the competition. Interestingly, two of the nations with which Israel signed normalization agreements – Morocco and UAE – will in fact be sending representatives, despite the seemingly contradiction between beauty pageants and Muslim modesty. The Abraham Accords are resulting in dividends that were not immediately foreseen at the time they were signed.

 Miss Universe Andrea Meza of Mexico is seen visiting Jerusalem, Israel, on November 17, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Miss Universe Andrea Meza of Mexico is seen visiting Jerusalem, Israel, on November 17, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

What’s surprising, though, is the silence from within Israel. I would have thought that howls of objection would have been heard emanating from at least two different sources, but someone, wisely, turned on mute.

Where, in the first place, is the argument that women’s rights and feminism are no longer mere fads? They most definitely have an energy of their own and have long ceased to be relegated as human-interest items; on the contrary, they command, deservedly so, the main headlines in print, broadcast and digital media. Locally, religiously observant ladies are demanding the right to organize prayer services at the Western Wall. Women are, finally, gaining political traction in their battle against abusive spouses, and young girls are being educated that no dream is too impossible to aspire to.

So, that being the case, where is the protest against what must surely be perceived as a display of female exploitation that has no purpose other than to satisfy the “male gaze?” How is it that Israel’s aggressive “Ladies of the Left” – Merav Michaeli, Shelly Yacimovich, Tamar Zandberg – are quietly accepting that this country will be hosting what has not infrequently been labeled a “meat display,” that promotes patriarchal values and promotes an idealized version of a woman that has little if anything to do with personal achievement, academic excellence or public service? Surely, they must be bothered by the personal restrictions and limitations contestants must abide by, and are disallowed to compete if they are married, have been divorced or undergone an abortion. So much for “I am woman, watch me roar,” at least as far as the Miss Universe head office is concerned.

Clearly, Israel’s women’s rights activists have concluded that the overall benefits of having the pageant in Israel far outweigh the negative perceptions that are created and enforced by all competitions in which feminine beauty is being compared. They’re probably not wrong, but their docile acceptance of the pageant being hosted by Israel is still somewhat surprising.

And then we have the haredim. I can’t help but feel that if they were still in the coalition, a ruckus would have been created in protest over allowing the Miss Universe pageant to “sully” the holy atmosphere of Israel. With their leverage no longer viable, activists from Har Nof and Ramat Beit Shemesh have no doubt decided to expend energy on fights that they might have some chance of winning. Which, on the one hand, makes it easier for the pageant’s production team to guard against and prevent disruptions. But, well, it’s not the same without the haredim threatening to bring down heaven’s wrath if what they see as debasing and immoral does not immediately cease. All part of the “new normal,” I suppose.

Oh, and is it too late to add another pageant category to the ones that already exist? I do think that one should be created especially for Lalela Mswane. That she is standing up to unusually harsh criticism – from both within and outside of South Africa - by not boycotting the event should not go unnoticed or unrewarded. How about “Miss Principled?” Not as catchy as Miss Congeniality, true, but a lot more meaningful.

The writer is a retired technical communicator currently assisting nonprofit organizations in the preparation of grant submissions and struggling to master the ins and outs of social media.