When one thinks of controversy at a beauty pageant, one thinks of cosmetic enhancements or cattiness behind the scenes. Certainly, a beauty pageant is not likely to spark an international incident. But, that happened this week as the continuing Middle Eastern conflict arose in a non-Miss Congeniality way in the pre-events leading to Sunday’s Miss Universe competition.
The 88 Miss Universe contestants from countries around the globe gathered in the Miami, Florida, area this week for preliminary competitions, public relations appearances and rehearsals in preparation 63rd Miss Universe Pageant on Jan. 25. During one of the get-togethers of the Miss Universe women in their sashes turned into a PR skirmish between Lebanon and Israel – or at least their beauty queen representatives – that is raising ire on social media in their countries.
The Miss Universe contestants were mingling, posing for pictures and taking selfies. At the event, Miss Lebanon, Saly Greige, claimed that one of her fellow beauty queen contestants, Doron Matalon, kept trying to take a picture of herself with Greige. That contestant did eventually take a photo with Griege, Miss Slovenia and Miss Japan and post it on social media. The issue is that Matalon is Miss Israel.
In the movie Miss Congeniality, the contestants all claimed to want “world peace.” In the real life international pageant world, diplomatic relations is not a competitive category or expressed desire. So, the fact that Lebanon and Israel are at war officially, and have decades of military conflict between them, overshadowed any sense of camaraderie and good will from Miss Lebanon and her countrymen.
Greige claimed Miss Israel photo bombed her and took the photo against her will. However, the photo shows Greige smiling along with the other contestants in the shot.
Back in Lebanon, the photo has caused a fury. Many in Lebanon are upset with their beauty queen for appearing with the Israeli representative. (Greige has indicated that she was trying to avoid any interaction with Miss Israel.)
Reportedly, people in Lebanon actually have called for her to step down simply for being seen in a picture with “the enemy.” Greige has tried to quell the criticism in a message to Lebanese followers and citizens on Facebook yesterday. In the posting, she accused Miss Israel of going out of her way to try and be seen with Miss Lebanon. She reported that she was taking a picture with Miss Slovenia and Miss Japan. “Suddenly Miss Israel jumped in, took a selfie, and put it on her social media,” Miss Lebanon wrote in her posting.
Matalon did not respond to the suggestion that she had been stalking Greige, but she said the situation makes her feel sad. “Too bad you cannot 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,” was part of the message Miss Israel posted on Instagram.
The last major conflict between the two nations was in 2006, and the border region has been relatively peaceful. But the animosity toward Israel in Lebanon has not waned. Lebanese citizens can reportedly be imprisoned if they travel to or make a telephone call to Israel. Products made in Israel are banned in Lebanon. So, someone from Lebanon appearing with someone from Israel – and both representing their nation – at the Miss Universe pageant was seen as a microcosm of the larger Middle Eastern conflict and non-existent relations between the countries.
By Dyanne Weiss