The group that runs the Miss Universe beauty contest said Monday that the flap over a photo of Miss Lebanon alongside Miss Israel is "unfortunate."
A photo uploaded to Instagram on Jan. 11 showing Miss Lebanon, Saly Greige, posed next to Miss Israel, Doron Matalon, and two other pageant contestants sparked a small-scale political firestorm. Lebanese television station Al Jadeed chastised Greige, saying the contestant should have remembered that Lebanon and Israel are sworn enemies.
Greige defended herself on Facebook, claiming she had been trying to avoid Matalon. She said she was simply "having a photo with Miss Japan and Miss Slovenia" when "suddenly Miss Israel jumped in, took a selfie, and put it on her social media."
The Miss Universe Organization, which is owned jointly by NBCUniversal and Donald Trump, lamented the controversy. "It is unfortunate to know a photo of four smiling women from different parts of the world, working together at an event, could be misconstrued as anything other than what it is, a celebration of universal friendship, which the Miss Universe pageant is all about," the group said in a statement Monday.
The organization said it hopes that when the contestants go to local charity events in Miami ahead of the pageant they will "see just how much they have in common" and form bonds that could "make inroads for change in the future."
Matalon expressed a similar sentiment on her Facebook page on Sunday, saying that she wished "hostility" could be forgotten during the three-week period the contestants spend together.
The pageant will be televised Sunday, Jan. 25, on NBC at 8 p.m. ET.
— Elisha Fieldstadt