Israeli LGBT icon Dana International goes for Eurovision encore


Israeli pop star Dana International — representing her country in this year’s international Eurovision Song Competition — is no stranger to the spotlight: her 1998 Eurovision victory made her one of the most visible transexual figures in Israeli and European history. At one point, she claimed to have declined an invitation to join multi-platinum female pop group the Spice Girls.

Born Yaron Cohen in 1972, Dana International’s rise to the international stage drew attention to religious-secular tensions and "sparked a massive display of gay pride" in Israel. Although one religious legislator walked out during her Knesset appearance, religious and secular lawmakers alike interpreted the controversy to fit their respective worldviews:

After her recent triumph at the annual Eurovision song contest — the reason she rose to sudden prominence — Dana casually gave Tourism Minister Moshe Katzav a kiss in front of the cameras while clad in skin-tight clothes.

"I don’t regard myself as anyone’s symbol," she said. "I see myself as a singer."

Photo opportunities such as these were a perfect opportunity for secular Knesset members from the right and left to prove they were not beholden to the fervently Orthodox.

But when Dana arrived in the Knesset, fervently Orthodox lawmakers did not interfere — nor did they adopt the popular Knesset strategy of threatening to bring down the government.

Some analysts said their lack of a response was part of an overall strategy.

"It serves the haredim well," said Moshe Lissak, a professor emeritus of sociology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "Because they say, `Now we are certain that you are like this, this is what your culture is about – – homosexuality and sexuality.’"

Rabbi Avraham Ravitz, a Knesset member from the fervently Orthodox United Torah Judaism bloc, agreed, saying Dana’s visit to the Knesset was not worth the fight.

"If this is what they wanted to have a Jewish state for after 2,000 years, that’s their problem," said Ravitz. "I’m embarrassed, but I won’t make a fight about it because it doesn’t disturb my own life."

Dana International will perform today in the Eurovision semi-final round in Dusseldorf, Germany. Should she advance, the final round is scheduled for Saturday night, May 14.

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