The image that caused an international uproar last week was not the new Charlie Hebdo cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammad crying, but rather a selfie taken by Miss Israel in the lead-up to the 63rd annual Miss Universe Pageant in Miami.
Doron Matalon, this year’s Miss Israel, posted the photo of herself with Miss Lebanon, Saly Greige, and two other fellow contestants from Japan and Slovenia on January 11. The photo garnered angry reactions from Lebanese fans on social media and news outlets alike. Lebanese Television Station Al Jadeed poked fun at the Lebanese beauty queen, who listed reading as one of her favorite pastimes, and said she should probably read up on the history between Israel and Lebanon.
Greige immediately posted “the truth behind the photo” on her Facebook page, saying Matalon pushed her way into the picture. “Since the first day of my arrival to participate to Miss Universe, I was very cautious to avoid being in any photo or communication with Miss Israel (that tried several times to have a photo with me),” Greige wrote in English. “I was having a photo with Miss Japan, Miss Slovenia and myself; suddenly Miss Israel jumped in, took a selfie, and put it on her social media…this is what happened and I hope to have your full support in the Miss Universe contest,” she added. Griege later posted the same message on Instagram, cropping Matalon out of the photo.
Miss Israel took to social media as well, responding in Hebrew and English on her Facebook page. “It doesn’t surprise me, but it still makes me sad. Too bad you can not put the hostility out of the game, only for three weeks of an experience of a lifetime that we can meet girls from around the world and also from the neighboring country,” she wrote.
In an interview with YNet, Matalon said that since the photo was posted, both Miss Lebanon and Miss Egypt refuse to stand next to her in any pageant activities.
This isn’t the first time the Miss Universe Pageant sparked tensions in the Middle East. In 1993, the Lebanese government disqualified its contestant, Ghada al-Turk, after the AFP posted a photo of her smiling hand-in-hand with Israel’s contestant.
Even Jon Stewart joked about the photo. “Does everything that happens between Middle East countries have to be a bombing?” Stewart asked this week. “In the overall area of that photo, she’s only taking up a very narrow strip at the edge. I mean what do you want to do? Push her back to, say, pre-1967 photo borders?” he said.
The Miss Universe Organization, which is owned by NBCUniversal and Donald Trump realeased a statement about the controversy. “It is unfortunate to know a photo of four smiling women from different parts of the world, working together at an event, could be misconstrued as anything other than what it is, a celebration of universal friendship, which the Miss Universe pageant is all about.”