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L’Oreal’s first hijab-wearing hair care model steps down over 2014 Israel tweets

L’Oreal Paris recently made history when it featured model Amena Khan in its new hair product campaign, but when tweets she penned in 2014 made the rounds online, she announced she would step down.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was not able to view the now-deleted tweets, but screenshots of Khan’s comments showed she referred to Israel as a “sinister state” and said the country is full of "child murderers."

Khan, a British beauty blogger, model and co-founder of Ardere Cosmetics, was recognized for becoming the first hijab-wearing model to star in a hair campaign for a major international brand last week.

On Monday, she shared a statement with her more than 570,000 Instagram followers and wrote, "I recently took part in a campaign, which excited me because it celebrated inclusivity. With deep regret, I've decided to step down from this campaign because the current conversations surrounding it detract from the positive and inclusive sentiment that it set out to deliver."

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A post shared by Amena (@amenaofficial) on

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Khan penned a second post Wednesday “to clarify” any misunderstandings.

“I stand by, grieve for and am outraged by the suffering of children whether they’re victims of war or any other type of abuse,” she wrote. “My choice of words in the 2014 tweets could have been worded better as I know there was genuine hurt in a community that I sounded like I was generalizing.”

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The reaction to Khan’s stepping down has been mixed as some Twitter users were frustrated that she apologized in the first place.

Journalist Areeb Ullah compared Khan to actress Gal Gadot, who has openly supported Israel’s war in Gaza.

Ullah also noted that in 2014, the United Nations death toll during that war left 1,462 Palestinian civilians, including 495 children and 253 women, dead. 

Khan’s announcement comes just one week after she revealed she was to be a part of the L’Oreal Paris hair care campaign.

In an interview with Vogue UK last Sunday, Khan lauded the European brand for its commitment to inclusion. “They're literally putting a girl in a headscarf — whose hair you can't see — in a hair campaign ... because what they're really valuing through the campaign is the voices that we have,” Khan said.

"You have to wonder – why is it presumed that women that don't show their hair don't look after it?" she said. "The opposite of that would be that everyone that does show their hair only looks after it for the sake of showing it to others. And that mindset strips us of our autonomy and our sense of independence. Hair is a big part of self-care.”

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On Twitter, L’Oreal and Khan received their share of praise and backlash.

Blogger and model Amena Khan, featured in the new L'Oreal Paris hair campaign. (YouTube/L'Oreal UK)

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The campaign reignited a controversial discussion about the hijab, with many arguing the garment promotes oppression of women.

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Last March, when Nike announced its new sports hijab, many Muslim women defended their choice to wear the hijab.

Muslim feminist Hanna Yusuf has also addressed critics of the hijab in the past and said that wearing hers is a feminist statement. 

“In a world where a woman’s value is often reduced to her sexual allure, what could be more empowering than rejecting that notion?” she said in a video for The Guardian.

But, Yusuf said, her concern with the hijab being unfairly portrayed as oppression is not a denial of the fact that some women are forced to wear it in some parts of the world.

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Still, some users felt that including a hijab-wearing model to promote hair products was “#pointless” or was just a company attempt to make a statement.

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Khan was also criticized for some of her previous tweets, in which she referred to Israel as a “sinister state.” Those tweets have since been deleted.

For reference, President Donald Trump recently recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which the United Nations voted to condemn.

For decades, the U.S. has remained silent on the issue amid warnings from world leaders concerned that such a declaration “could inflame tensions in the volatile Mideast,” the New York Times reported. The Palestinians seek East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967, for their capital.

More about the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

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