When is a selfie not just a selfie? When the image, taken at the Miss Universe contest, features Miss Israel and Miss Lebanon—and an accusation of photobombing.
The scandal has been unfolding on social media since January 11, when Doron Matalon (Miss Israel) uploaded a seemingly innocuous photo to her Instagram feed. Taken at Wynwood Art Walk in Miami, she poses spontaneously with Saly Greige (Miss Lebanon), Urška Bračko (Miss Slovenia), and Keiko Tsuji (Miss Japan). They all look fetching, though Greige does seem to be grimacing a little. (But that could just be the bright Floridian sunlight.)
According to the New York Post, the photo caused an uproar in Lebanon, “which forbids its citizens from fraternizing with Israelis.” (The two countries have been in a state of war since 1948.) Some compatriots began calling for Greige to be stripped of her crown. This is not without precedent: according to Lebanon’s Daily Star, Huda al-Turk lost her title in 1993 after she was photographed with her Israeli competitor.
Greige then posted an edited version of the photo to her own feed (with Matalon cropped out), claiming she was caught unaware by the Israeli model, who swooped in on a three-person selfie at the last moment, turning it into a foursome. “Since the first day of my arrival to participate to Miss universe,” Greige wrote, “I was very cautious to avoid being in any photo or communication with Miss isreal [sic], who tried several times to take a photo with me… suddenly Miss Israel jumped in, took a selfie, and put it on her social media.”
Yesterday, Matalon responded to the furor by reposting a link to the controversial image on her Facebook page with the following caption: “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.”
Matalon first rose to prominence in Israel in 2011, when she refused to comply with an ultra-Orthodox passenger’s demand that she stand at the back of a gender segregated bus in Jerusalem. Then an IDF soldier in uniform, she was traveling at the front of the vehicle when she was approached by a male passenger, who called her a prostitute and told her to “move back.” She refused, and the bus came to a standstill—literally—in the middle of the street. The police were summoned, passengers were questioned, and the sexist instigator was arrested.
Update: We’ll leave the final word to Jon Stewart. Here’s his sharp take from The Daily Show‘s new segment, “What Photo is Upsetting the Middle East This Week?”