Miss Universe contestant Sarah Idan has confirmed that her family has fled their home country of Iraq after a harmless selfie with Miss Israel led to repeated death threats.
Sarah Idan, who represented the war-torn country last month in Las Vegas, sat down with CNN to talk about the picture for the first time since its message of understanding set off a wave of social media attacks.
“Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel #missuniverse,” she posted on her Instagram account, adding heart emojis next to a picture of her with fellow contestant, Adar Gandelsman.
Idan, a 27-year-old who was her country’s first contestant in the pageant in 45 years, immediately began receiving backlash for the post from those criticizing the state of Israel, leading her to write a follow up post saying that the selfie was not support for the Benjamin Netanyahu administration or a slight against Palestinians.
The aspiring singer, who also has U.S. citizenship and lives in Los Angeles, told CNN that the Iraqi organization that sent her to the pageant had threatened to strip her crown if she did not take the photo down.
She said that she refused to do so, but stayed quiet about the matter for weeks as her family left the country amid harassment and people recognizing them in the street.
“I was crying to my mom and felt like it’s my fault they left, and she said, ‘no, it’s not your fault, we live in a f****d up society,” Idan told CNN.
The Miss Iraq Organization said that it did not issue the crown-stripping threat despite a “strong attack from the Iraqi street.”
Idan’s confirmation comes after Israeli media reported her family’s flight last week when Gandelsman recounted what had happened to her selfie partner.
Their picture came before tensions in the Middle East over Israeli-Palestinian relations became even more heated after President Trump’s announcement
Iraq was one of many Arab countries that came out against the move and said that it could have a destabilizing effect on the region.