Sarah Idan, Miss Iraq 2017, is the newest voice in the chorus of advocates calling for coexistence between Israel and Palestine.
Speaking before international and Israeli officials at the American Jewish Global Forum in Jerusalem last week, the 28-year-old social media influencer spoke of the urgency to “seek a new method that does not emphasise… differences and disagreements”.
Her budding relationship with Israeli counterpart Adar Gandelsman broke global headlines in November last year after a selfie featuring the two beauty pageant contestants went viral, prompting both outrage and delight.
Their faces are back in the press this week, following Idan’s publicised trip to Israel six months after Trump’s administration declared coveted Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The restoration of coexistence was the theme framing Idan’s speech at the American Jewish Committee sponsored forum, with Miss Israel at her side. The two of them stood barely inches apart.
The renewed criticism she faces has boiled over what appears to be a tacit endorsement of the Israeli government and its false narrative of equal sides. At the time she rose to fame the Christian-Iraqi model received death threats over her public lifestyle and liberal clothing, rather than her views, and she took to twitter to denounce them.
While in Israel she vocalised a personal declaration to seek peace, omitting, however, Israel’s routine sabotage of past peace initiatives. The absence of reciprocal efforts to stand before Palestinian audiences or speak at their events has led some to question Idan’s newest role as a cultural ambassador.
Paving the ground upon which coexistence can take root is an opportunity that the Israeli government has obliterated repeatedly and aggressively, beneath state sanctioned violence, ethnic cleansing and legal obstruction of the right of return for Palestinians to repopulate the lands from which they were dispossessed.
“Reasoning, mutual compromise and unity” – the central pillars of the “new method” the Baghdad-born model stresses – ignores Israel’s lack of compromise and self-serving rhetoric that has criminalised Palestinians for pursuing justice. These actions have led to the failure of a dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace process as a result of Israel’s systemic discrimination, state sanctioned violence and legal discrimination against Palestinians.
“My hope”, Idan said, “is [that] I get to see my Jewish brothers and sisters roam free from Jerusalem to Ramallah, to Babylon and to the Nile, and, for my fellow Arabs and Muslims to walk through Israel without the fear of having the Israeli stamp on their passport”.
As for Palestinians, who were mentioned last, Idan hopes they can live free of the fear of being displaced, to cross Tel Aviv’s beaches and pray at Al-Aqsa without complication” – the same hopes surviving members of the Nakba generation have documented in oral histories and written memoirs.
Rolling coverage of her warming relationship to Israel misses what her speech exhibits – a shallow understanding of the structurally discriminatory regime Israel is and the hundreds and thousands of Palestinians it has displaced.
“Less blood more amity”, the line Idan concluded with, betrays the Palestinian struggle that rose in response to Israel’s selective violence against Palestinians sparing no one, neither old nor young.
Back in November 2017, days after the famous selfie broke the net, Idan spoke in defence of her actions. “This publication is not an endorsement of the Israeli government and it does not mean agreeing or accepting their policies in the Arab world” she wrote in Arabic. She ended her letter with extended apologies to the Arab world, intended for anyone who walked away with the impression that the image was “undermining the Palestinian cause” and emphasising her “call for peace” as early as then.
While Idan’s speech resonates with Israeli society and confirms the wisdom the Israeli state operates under and through, it writes out the national struggle of a people, Palestinians, that are the objects of Israel’s deliberate use of violence. No mention of the Israeli prime minister’s latest assault on Gaza, in which 130 Palestinians were slain during mass protests to demand the right of return for Palestinians, appeared in her speech. Too many gaping holes are detectable, enough for observers to question the intention behind Idan’s visit and whether her calls for peace are any more than another tally in Israel’s waning line of PR victories. The reinvention of Idan’s image from model to cultural ambassador ignores Palestine’s own class of peace advocates and activists, and their struggle against Israel’s apartheid state. They may rightfully view Idan as a false prophet of peace and coexistence.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.