JERUSALEM, March 10 (JTA) — An Arab woman has been named Miss Israel for the first time in the nation’s history. “I am totally Israeli, and I do not think about whether I am an Arab or a Jew,” 21-year-old Rana Raslan, from Haifa, said at Tuesday’s 1999 pageant. “They wanted a beauty queen, not a political queen,” said Raslan, who works at an Israeli law firm. Surrounded by a crush of contestants smothering her with kisses, Raslan said, “It does not matter if I am Jewish or Arab, I will represent Israel as best I can. We must live here in coexistence.” News of her victory made headlines across Israel. An Israeli feminist criticized the notion that Raslan’s victory marks a step forward for Israeli Arab women. “An Arab beauty queen has been chosen, so I’m supposed to be terribly impressed about what a wonderful and equality-minded country we have because the Arab sector has joined in this ridiculous celebration?” said writer Irit Linor. Raslan will receive a car, a modeling contract and the chance to represent Israel at this year’s Miss World championships. Meanwhile, the 1998 winner — and reigning Miss World — delivered a tearful, defiant speech at the pageant alluding to her allegations of rape against a travel agent. Linor Abargil has accused an Israeli travel agent of raping her in Milan, Italy, last October — two months before she was crowned Miss World. The agent, who denies the charge, was arrested in Israel and faces trial here. “To all of those who relate to beauty contests as meat markets: You should know, we do with our bodies what we want,” she said to applause. “Only what we want, and no one else.” In January, Abargil lifted a publication ban on the rape case in an effort to encourage rape victims to come forward. “I’ve been through a lot this year,” Abargil, 18, said at the end of the two-hour extravaganza broadcast live from a Tel Aviv theater. Through tears, she thanked “all of you at home for all the love you gave me.”
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