Dozens of excited spectators arrived at the northern town of Shfaram Sunday night to witness the crowning of this year's Arab beauty queen.
While the 2008 title went to 19-year-old Stephanie Zakkak from Jaffa, Science, Culture and Sport Minister Raleb Majadele stole the show with his controversial statement that "the woman's role should be to build a good family, to be an aide to her husband and to stand by him".
The young Zakkak beat 11 contestants on her way to winning the fifth annual beauty pageant, sponsored by the Arab media in Israel. Outgoing queen Mary Abu-Arab got to pass the crown down to Zakkak.
"The beauty contest symbolizes the Arab woman's status in the 2000s. The possibilities that stand before her to achieve whatever she wants. There must be equality between women and men," said the former queen.
Northern District Commander Jamal Hakrush and his wife San were also at the pageant cheering on their daughter, contestant Nijem. The proud father said, "Those that are against this event don't understand that it's not against our culture.
"It's time to view the woman as an inseparable part of culture. Not only should she leave the house and develop a career, she must have a career."
Nijem's mother added, "This event is a vital and educational event. Beauty should be shown and not hidden. True that I am married to a man that has a career, but he has never stopped me from doing what I want and love."
Alongside the joy of the winners and the disappointment of the losers lied the dispute among the Arab public, some of which feel such pageants are inappropriate.
Majadele, who attended the pageant as minister said he had received phone calls from people asking him how he, a praying and traditional man, could crown the beauty queen.
Stephanie Zakkak, 2008 Arab beauty queen (Photo: Muhammad Amara)
The minister said his response to such questions was that his personal opinion is irrelevant, and as a minister, he must attend every event in the Arab sector in Israel.
Nonetheless, the minister did give his personal opinion, saying, "I would like to see the woman fill a central role in the building of a family according to the Arab society's world view and not that of the blind Israeli modern European society.
"The woman's role should be to build a good family, to be an aide to her husband and to stand by him."
The minister added that "a career woman in the Arab society is something that can only happen when the home and a family are at the center of the woman's life. A career woman that neglects her family is a home wrecker and not a career builder."
The new beauty queen however, was completely indifferent to this controversy. "It's an amazing experience; I recommend every girl my age experience this," said Zakkak, who won NIS 20,000 ($5,000), NIS 10,000 ($2,500) worth of jewelry and a year-long modeling contract.
Zakkak's mother Ilana said, "I knew my daughter would win. I am glad that lately people have progressed and have begun to realize that there is a place for such competitions. When I was her age I couldn't do this."