Sarah Idan, the 27-year-old woman who represented Iraq in this year’s Miss Universe pageant, revealed that she received death threats for taking a selfie with her Israeli counterpart, Adar Gandelsman.
Idan told CNN Monday that after she posted the photo on Instagram back in November, a number of people threatened to kill not only her, but her family. The threats ultimately forced her family to flee Iraq, she said.
“My mom was freaking out,” Idan told CNN. “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.”
The controversy first arose on Nov. 13 when she posted the photo with the caption: “Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel.”
Idan said the photo was intended to send a message of peace, and that she didn’t think it would generate the reaction it did.
“I said [to Miss Israel Adar Gandelsman] ‘Let’s take a picture so our people can see we don’t have a problem and we’re actually ambassadors for peace,'” Idan recalled to CNN.
She said in addition to the death threats, she received additional threats from the Miss Iraq organization, who allegedly told her they would strip her of her title if she did not remove the controversial photo from online. The Miss Iraq Organization denied they planned to strip her of her title, saying in a statement to CNN, “”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 Miss Universe competition took place in Las Vegas six days after Idan said she first received the warnings. She ultimately decided to compete, but did not place in the competition.
For now, Idan said she is focusing on keeping a low profile so her family can get out of the country. She has dual U.S. and Iraqi citizenship and returned home to Los Angeles after the pageant.
“The [Iraqi] government has been scary quiet,” she told CNN. “And when they’re this quiet, you don’t know what waits for you at home.”