Miss Iraq Universe, Sarah Idan, has told CNN that her family was forced to flee their native country amid death threats over a photo she posted online, posing for a selfie with Miss Israel.
Idan said she never expected a negative reaction to her photo, taken with Adar Gandelsman in the run-up to the international beauty pageant in Nevada in November.
"I woke up to calls from my family and the Miss Iraq Organization going insane. The death threats I got online were so scary," she told CNN. She said she immediately told her mother that the family should leave Iraq, given the seriousness of the threats -- which she says included Iraqi government officials threatening to strip her of her national title if she didn't take the photo down.
It remains on her Instagram account.
Iraq and Israel have no former relations. Anger toward the Jewish state across the Muslim world has reached a new crescendo in recent weeks as President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Both Palestinians and Israelis claim the holy city as their capital, and no other nation has unilaterally recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Idan, a dual U.S.-Iraqi national, quietly agreed to post a follow-up message as the threats increased, making it clear her photo was no endorsement of Israel's government or policies. But the pressure increased.
"My mom was freaking out. I told her 'Mom, just get out. Get out.' I told her I'm sorry and asked if she wants me to leave the competition. I was ready to drop out right then," said Idan. "People in Iraq recognized my family, they immediately knew who they were. And they were getting death threats."
She told CNN she remained silent publicly during the backlash so that her family could get out of the country.
Miss Universe 2017 said her family was told she would have to apply for a new national identity card to renew her Iraqi passport. To do that, she would need to return to Iraq -- something she told CNN she's now afraid to do.