In Israel, Miss Universe says pageant is no place for politics

Reigning Miss Universe Andrea Meza of Mexico said Wednesday that the long-running beauty pageant should not be politicized, even though its next edition will be held in Israel amid pressure on contestants to withdraw in solidarity with the Palestinians.

The 70th Miss Universe pageant will be held in December in the southern Israeli resort city of Eilat.

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The 2018 Miss Universe pageant

The 2018 Miss Universe pageant

(Photo: Reuters)

Meza was touring Jerusalem before dozens of contestants from around the world arrived in Israel in the coming weeks to compete in national costumes, evening dresses and swimwear. Your public speaking skills will also be tested with a series of interview questions.

But the pageant is in the spotlight for being held in Israel amid boycott calls against the country for its treatment of Palestinians. At least one country has already canceled its participation.

“Everyone with different beliefs, with different origins, with different cultures, they all come together and when you are there you forget about politics, about your religion,” Meza said. “It’s just about hugging other women.”

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Miss Universe Andrea Meza poses, against the backdrop of the Dome of the Rock mosqueMiss Universe Andrea Meza poses, against the backdrop of the Dome of the Rock mosque

Miss Universe Andrea Meza poses, against the backdrop of the Dome of the Rock mosque

(Photo: AFP)

Meza, 27, represents Mexico and was crowned in May, during a ceremony delayed by COVID in Florida, where contestants adorned their sparkling dresses with face masks. Deliver the crown in Eilat on December 12.

Organizing the program is a blow to Israel, which for years has faced an international grassroots campaign led by Palestinians calling for boycotts, divestments and sanctions. Israel hopes the pageant will help attract tourists and project an image of Israel as a safe destination during the pandemic.

Paula M. Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organization, has said that Israel has been on the list of host countries “because of its rich history, beautiful landscapes, myriad cultures and attractiveness as a global tourist destination.”

But contestants face pressure to boycott the event and put aside hopes that the crown will make a political statement.

PACBI, a Palestinian activist group and a founding member of the boycott movement, called on the contestants “not to harm our fight for freedom, justice and equality by withdrawing from the contest.”

Citing COVID, Malaysia has announced that it will not send a contestant. And the South African government said it was withdrawing support for the country’s representative for her participation in the event.

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South African Miss Universe Contestant Listen to MswaneSouth African Miss Universe Contestant Listen to Mswane

South African Miss Universe Contestant Listen to Mswane

(Photo: Twitter)

“The atrocities committed by Israel against the Palestinians are well documented,” the government said in a statement, adding that it “cannot conscientiously associate with them.”

Both countries are strong supporters of the Palestinians.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment and requests for comment from the country’s Tourism Ministry, which organized Meza’s visit to the Old City on Wednesday, received no response.

The impact of the boycott movement has been mixed. It has scored a string of hits over the years, with top artists such as Lorde and Lana Del Ray canceling appearances due to Israeli policies.

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BDS t-shirt boycotted Israel t-shirt BDS t-shirt boycotted Israel t-shirt

A BDS t-shirt in 2019

(Photo: AFP )

But the big stars have still made stops in Israel and major events like the Eurovision Song Contest, which included a performance by Madonna, have been held in the country despite high-profile boycott calls.

The Miss Universe pageant will attract contestants from Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, Arab countries that recently normalized ties with Israel.

The boycott movement, known as BDS, promotes boycotts, divestments and sanctions of Israeli institutions and companies in what it says is a non-violent campaign against Israeli abuses against Palestinians.

Israel says the campaign is an effort to delegitimize and even destroy the country, and claims its motives are anti-Semitic. BDS leaders deny allegations of anti-Semitism, saying their campaign is against Israeli policies.

Meza said she did not blame the women who wanted not to enter this year’s contest, but said she had no problem with the contest being held in Israel.

In a loose, flowing dress with flat sandals, Meza wandered the mostly empty cobbled alleys of the Old City, stopping to browse the shops as the media followed him. Vendors, unaccustomed to seeing crowds since the onset of the pandemic, stared and wondered aloud about the attention Meza was attracting.

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Miss Universe Andrea Meza poses in front of the Jaffa Gate while visiting the Old City of Jerusalem Miss Universe Andrea Meza poses in front of the Jaffa Gate while visiting the Old City of Jerusalem

Miss Universe Andrea Meza poses in front of the Jaffa Gate while visiting the Old City of Jerusalem

(Photo: AFP)

Meza, who is a software engineer, said she was “just a girl” from a small town in Mexico who was not a “perfect and flawless” beauty queen. She said that she had worked hard to become Miss Universe and that the competition was not only about parading women in bikinis, but also about testing her intelligence.

When asked if he could offer a solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, he said that he did not believe in violence and that communication was key.

“People have to make concessions and I really hope we can do that by talking and talking,” he said.

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