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March 24, 2022 1:06 pm
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‘Diversity Is Definitely There’: Former Miss Iraq Sarah Idan Defends Israel Against ‘Apartheid’ Charge

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Former Miss Iraq Sarah Idan taking a selfie with students from Yeshiva College in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo: Instagram.

Former Miss Iraq Sarah Idan dismissed claims that Israel is practicing “apartheid,” a charge frequently levied by anti-Zionist activists, while visiting South Africa this week.

Speaking with South African radio personality Bafana Modise, the human rights activist and former beauty queen spoke about her personal experience witnessing coexistence between Arabs and Jews in Israel.

“I didn’t see any apartheid [in Israel],” Idan said, noting that Israeli Arabs hold “high government positions,” including as members of Knesset and ambassadors to foreign countries. “Diversity is definitely there.”

Modise likewise criticized the claim, saying, “I’ve been there more than twice, I’ve never seen apartheid there.”

Idan also argued in the interview that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not comparable to the situation in apartheid-era South Africa.

“What amazes me is that the people use this term but what happened in South Africa was done by the government against its own people. What we have in Israel is a war between two nations,” she explained. “How can you use the word apartheid in Israel? They’re two different nations. They’re two different governments. How can you apply that term to the country? All Arabs who live in Israel have exactly the same rights as Israelis.”

Idan, the founder and CEO of the NGO Humanity Forward, is currently in South Africa to speak with students about human rights, freedom of speech, mental health, and women’s empowerment. She also focuses on the struggles women experience in Iraq, and how she and her family faced death threats and had to flee the country after she shared a photo with Miss Israel at the Miss Universe pageant in 2017. She elaborated on the ordeal in an op-ed last week for South Africa’s Mail & Guardian.

“From the way my family and I were treated, and by what I have learned since then, I have come to recognize that those calling most loudly for punitive action to be taken against Israel are not pro-peace nor are they even pro-Palestinian,” she argued.

Rather, they are “simply anti-Israel, and that so far as the relationship between Arabs and Israelis is concerned, this is deeply rooted in the antisemitic belief systems taught in Muslim countries and which are continually reinforced by biased media,” she wrote.

Idan said her experiences inspired her to promote “peace between Muslims and Jews, Arabs and Israelis, in the Middle East and beyond” through her NGO Humanity Forward. The Miss Universe experience “and what happened to me thereafter have shown me that negotiating peace for Israel and Palestine is not a betrayal of the Arab cause but a vital step to end conflict and suffering for both peoples,” she reflected.

Idan’s comments come as anti-Zionists activists stage Israel Apartheid Week demonstrations in South Africa, a campaign that seeks to rally support for boycotting the Jewish state. A mural unveiled at the University of Pretoria (Tuks) by the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), which promotes reconciliation through dialogue, was defaced on Tuesday with the slogan, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” The chant is often used to call for establishing a Palestinian state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, in lieu of Israel.

The mural was painted by South African students as part of the “Heal Over Hate” campaign launched this year by SAUJS and StandWithUs.

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