The Electronic Intifada / November 8, 2021
Palestinians are calling for a boycott of this year’s Miss Universe beauty pageant, which will take place in the resort city of Eilat on 12 December.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) called on participants to withdraw from the competition, “to avoid complicity in Israel’s apartheid regime.”
PACBI pointed out that the city of Eilat was built atop the ruins of the small Palestinian fishing town of Umm al-Rashrash on the Red Sea coast.
Zionist paramilitary forces conquered the village during a March 1949 assault that also marked the last Zionist campaign during the Nakba, which ultimately left nearly 800,000 Palestinians dislodged from their homes and lands.
The Miss Universe Malaysia organization said they wouldn’t be participating in the contest in Eilat, but did not mention any boycott rather blaming “the worsening COVID-19 situation.”
Miss Indonesia will reportedly not be participating either.
Calls to boycott the event include one by Nkosi Zwelivelile “Mandla” Mandela, grandson of former South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela.
Mandela called on Miss South Africa “to boycott that event in protest at the occupation and the cruel treatment of Palestinians at the hands of apartheid Israel regime.”
He added: “There is nothing beautiful about occupation, brutality and institutionalized discrimination against the Palestinian people.”
He also called on the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israel’s crimes against Palestinians, and likened the boycott of Israel to that of South Africa in the 1980s.
“Apartheid Israel’s occupation is no less despicable than apartheid South Africa,” he wrote.
“The world responded to our call to stand in global solidarity against the apartheid regime.”
Hosts and performers
The pageant will be hosted by television star Steve Harvey.
Performing at the pageant will be Israeli pop artist Noa Kirel.
After rising to fame as a teenager, Kirel enlisted in the Israeli army in March 2020.
Having been born with one kidney, Kirel could have been exempt from Israel’s mandatory military service, but she had a strong desire to serve.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted,” she told Israeli media at the time. “I have a strong military past, my grandfather, my dad.”
As a soldier, she was limited in what she could do and what she could not do by the Israeli army.
Israel portrays hosting events like Miss Universe as pure cultural or entertainment phenomena, but such events have always been a vehicle to whitewash its crimes.
This time, the Israeli government is also trying greenwashing, marketing the pageant as an event that will shine “a spotlight on the issue of global warming as part of a green agenda that corresponds with the values of the host country.”
Meanwhile, Israel lobbyists are trying to counter the growing calls to boycott the pageant.
Sarah Idan, who represented Iraq in the 2017 Miss Universe pageant, has been one of the Israel lobby’s foremost ambassadors.
She posted a video message countering that of Mandela, calling on Miss Universe South Africa to go to Israel:
She caused outrage that year after posing for a photo with her Israeli counterpart Adar Gandelsman at the pageant.
The US Israel lobby has since taken Idan under its wing. She identifies explicitly as a Zionist, speaks at events hosted by major organizations such as StandWithUs and the American Jewish Committee, and even launched her own organization to promote normalization between Israel and Arab states.
She is also an ambassador for major Israel lobby group UN Watch.
UN Watch’s main activity is attacking and undermining UN bodies and officials who investigate or call for Israel to be held accountable for human rights abuses against Palestinians.
Arab states participate
Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates is so desperate to participate in the Eilat event that it has gone so far as to organize a last-minute inaugural Miss Universe UAE contest.
The Miss Universe Organization and Yugen Events announced on 7 October that Dubai will host its first-ever pageant. The competition is open to UAE residents, not just nationals.
Lebanese-Tunisian actress Nadine Nassib Njeim will serve on the jury of Miss Universe UAE, helping to select the winner who will compete in Israel in the November event.
The participation of a UAE contestant as well as Miss Universe Morocco, has given Israel plenty to “boast” about.
Morocco and the United Arab Emirates normalized relations with Israel last year despite popular opposition and no restoration of Palestinian rights.
Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada