Israeli Winner of Music Contest Stirs Religious-secular Tensions

An Israeli transsexual has charmed the judges in an international song competition — but she has failed to do the same with leaders of Israel’s fervently Orthodox community.

Dana International defeated singers from 24 other countries in the annual Eurovision song contest, held this year in Birmingham, England.

Dana, who sang a tune titled “Diva,” was born Yaron Cohen — a male — and underwent a sex change operation four years ago.

But some of Israel’s fervently Orthodox community disapproved of her representing the state in the annual songfest — and the result is a flap that is the latest incident in the growing religious-secular tensions in Israel.

“It’s a sign of the bankruptcy of Israeli song,” Deputy Health Minister Shlomo Benizri told Israel Radio when asked about the singer’s victory. “God is against this phenomenon. It’s a sickness you must cure and not give legitimacy.”

“You can put a cat’s tail on a dog, but it’s still a dog,” Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Haim Miller, of the fervently Orthodox Agudat Yisrael Party, told Israel Radio.

Eurovision tradition is that the country of the winning performer hosts the subsequent competition. But Miller said he would try to bar the contest from taking place in Israel next year.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Jewish state would take its turn in hosting the contest.

“This appears to me to be deserving of congratulations. It’s definitely an honorable achievement,” he said.

In remarks following the announcement of her victory, Dana International declared that her winning “is my gift to Israel’s 50th jubilee.”

Following the announcement of Dana’s victory, hundreds of her fans broke out in cheers and singing in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.

Earlier in the day, the square was the site of a protest by thousands of secular Israelis against the influence of fervently Orthodox parties in Netanyahu’s coalition.

Two weeks ago, a performance by an Israeli dance troupe at the main Independence Day event was canceled after Miller and others protested because the performance called for the dancers to strip down to their underwear.

Secular Israelis protested the cancellation of the event as an example of artistic censorship. Defenders of the cancellation said that as a state event, the gathering had to be sensitive to all public sensibilities, and that this particular piece was inappropriate.

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