1. Various, reigning Miss Universe Andrea Meza tours Jerusalem's Old City alleys
2. SOUNDBITE (English) Andrea Meza, reigning Miss Universe:
"Having this position has given me the opportunity to inspire other women in my country and around the world, and I came here with a very strong message about women empowerment. I believe in that because I grew up in a city where women have suffered from violence, very, very harsh violence through history. And I grew up with that. So I came here talking about it and trying to raise awareness about it and also about how being yourself and not trying to fit in the mold is very important."
3. Wide reverse Andrea Meza talking to media
4. Cutaway Andrea Meza's hands
5. SOUNDBTE (English) Andrea Meza, reigning Miss Universe:
"In the past, I used to see actresses and maybe models and former Miss Universe, and I would think I'm not good enough to be there. And I always thought that I didn't have what it takes to be here. But then I saw the women in my country that got the title and I thought, Well, if they made it, why can't I? And I prepared myself. Obviously, it was a long journey and I had to study and educate myself. But thanks to that, I am here and now I can show everyone that I'm just a girl from Mexico, from a small town, and I got it. So, if I can do it, you can do it too. So me being here, I don't have the perfect measurements. I guess I'm tall, but like other former Miss Universe, we're not tall and that doesn't matter. Your height doesn't matter your measurement, your weight. It doesn't matter. And people have criticized me because they still believe that a beauty queen should be perfect and flawless, and I am not."
6. Reverse Andrea Meza touring Jerusalem's Old City alleys
7. Cutaway men playing cards
8. Medium Andrea Meza touring Jerusalem's Old City alleys
9. SOUNDBITE (English) Andrea Meza, reigning Miss Universe:
"I definitely believe that Miss Universe is not a political or religious movement. So I think this is more about the women that are participating, you know, and embracing who they are. They are competing 70, 80, 90 women around the world for this title, that is about empowering other women, about inspiring, about motivating to, you know, keep working, keep repairing themselves. So I don't think this should be viewed as a political movement.
10. Close up Holy Sepulchre sign
11. Exterior Church of the Holy Sepulchre
12. Medium Andrea Meza and local resident posing for photo
13. SOUNDBITE (English) Andrea Meza, reigning Miss Universe:
"I don't believe in infighting. I think it's the life of humans is more important. So I really hope that any kind of conflict and this in specific can come to a solution which everyone is happy with everyone and, you know, people have to make compromises. And I really hope that we can make this through talking and through conversation."
14. Andrea Meza walks past camera into Church of the Holy Sepulchre, pan up to church exterior
IN ISRAEL, MISS UNIVERSE SAYS PAGEANT NO PLACE FOR POLITICS
The reigning Miss Universe said Wednesday the long-running beauty pageant shouldn't be politicized, even though its next edition is being held in Israel amid pressure on contestants to drop out in solidarity with the Palestinians.
The 70th Miss Universe pageant is being staged in the southern Israeli resort city of Eilat in December. Dozens of contestants from around the world will arrive there in the coming weeks to compete in national costumes, evening gowns and swimwear. They'll also have their public speaking prowess 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 over its treatment of the Palestinians. At least one country has already called off their participation.
“Everyone with different beliefs, with different backgrounds, with different cultures, they all come together and when you are in there you forget about politics, about your religion," Andrea Meza, the current Miss Universe, told The Associated Press ahead of a tour of Jerusalem's Old City. “It’s just about embracing other women.”
Meza, 27, represents Mexico and was crowned in May, during a COVID-delayed ceremony in Florida, where contestants accessorized their sparkling gowns with face masks. She hands over the crown in Eilat on Dec. 12.
Hosting the show is a coup for Israel, which for years has been confronting a grassroots Palestinian-led international campaign calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions. Israel hopes the pageant will help draw 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 Israel has been on the shortlist of host countries “due to its rich history, beautiful landscapes, myriad of cultures and appeal as a global tourist destination.”
But contestants are facing pressure to boycott the event and set aside hopes for the crown to make a political statement.
PACBI, a Palestinian activist group and founding member of the boycott movement, called on contestants to “do no harm to our struggle for freedom, justice and equality by withdrawing from the pageant.”
Citing COVID, Malaysia has announced it won't send a contestant. And South Africa’s government said it was withdrawing support for the country's representative over her participation in the event.
“The atrocities committed by Israel against Palestinians are well documented,” the government said in a statement, adding that it “cannot in good conscience associate itself with such.”
Both countries are strong supporters of the Palestinians.
Israel's Foreign Ministry declined to comment and requests for comment to the country's Tourism Ministry, which hosted Meza's visit to the Old City on Wednesday, were unanswered.
The boycott movement’s impact has been a mixed bag. It has notched a number of successes over the years, with major artists like Lorde and Lana Del Ray cancelling appearances because of Israel’s policies. But big stars still have 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 draw contestants from Morocco and the United Arab Emirates - Arab countries that recently normalized ties with Israel.
The boycott movement, known as BDS, promotes boycotts, divestment and sanctions of Israeli institutions and businesses in what it says is a nonviolent 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 didn't fault women who wanted to sit out this year's contest but she said she had no problem with the competition being held in Israel.
Wearing a flowing, full-length dress with flat sandals, Meza meandered through the mostly empty cobblestoned alleyways of the Old City, stopping to peek into shops as a media scrum followed. Vendors, unaccustomed to seeing throngs since the onset of the pandemic, stared and wondered aloud about the attention Meza was drawing.
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 she had worked hard to become Miss Universe and that the competition wasn't only about parading women in bikinis but also about testing their intelligence.
Asked if she could offer a solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, she said she didn't believe in violence and that communication was key.
“People have to make compromises and I really hope that we can make this through talking and conversation,” she said.