A newly-crowned 19-year-old Druze beauty won more than the standard congratulations on winning the 2008 Arab beauty pageant in Shfaram Sunday night.

At the fifth annual Arab beauty pageant to be held in Israel and sponsored by Arab media, Stephanie Zakkak also received what was tantamount to a morality lecture from Israel's only Arab minister.

Minister of Culture, Science and Sport, Raleb Majadele (Labor), who crowned the winner in his official capacity as a representative of the government, made it clear he did not do so out of enjoyment.

Majadele said he had been the target of criticism in the Arab sector for attending the beauty pageant event. People had called to ask how he, as a religious Muslim, could crown a beauty queen. He answered them, he said, by explaining that his personal opinion was not relevant since it was his job as a minister to attend every event in the Arab world in Israel, regardless of how he felt.

Nonetheless, he decided to express his personal opinion on the matter in his speech to the contestants and their families and friends upon crowning the new young beauty queen.

"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," he announced. "The woman's role should be to build a good family, to be an aide to her husband and to stand by him."

Moreover, he added, "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," he declared.

The young beauty was undismayed by the remarks.

"It's an amazing experience," Zakkak said upon winning NIS 20,000 ($5,000) in cash, as well as NIS 10,000 ($2,500) in jewelry. She also won a year's modeling contract.

Nor did the minister's lecture dissuade the new beauty queen's parents from allowing their daughter to pursue a career – particularly her mother, who noted, "When I was her age, I couldn't do this."

Contest a Sign of the Times

Outgoing Arab beauty queen, Mary Abu-Arab, who passed on the crown to Zakkak at the pageant, said at the ceremony that the 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," she said.

As elsewhere, there are splits in Arab society among those who believe beauty pageants are demeaning or immodest, and those who feel they are a stepping stone to scholarships for higher education or better job opportunities.

Northern District Commander Jamal Hakrush and his wife San, whose daughter Nijem also competed, told the Hebrew-language newspaper Yediot Acharonot that "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."