:: dana & the media world ::

Israel celebrates after transsexual wins Eurovision

The Associated Press
May 10, 1998

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) -- Israelis took to the streets in celebration late Saturday, cheering and honking horns after homegrown Dana International, a transsexual, won the Eurovision song contest.

Born Yaron Cohen to immigrant parents from Yemen, Dana International gained fame in Israel as a female impersonator in Tel-Aviv night clubs. In 1993, Dana International underwent a sex change operation in London.

Her nomination in November to represent Israel in the contest caused a stir among some religious Jews, and several powerful Orthodox lawmakers had even considered trying to topple the government over the issue.

Dana International, whose winning song "Diva," has been a hit in Israel for months, told Israel TV that her victory was a sign of changing times.

"This just goes to show the world is open-minded and liberated. We are all equal," she said, after the show in Birmingham, England.

But the ultra-Orthodox reaction was harsh.

"God is against this phenomenon. It's a sickness you must cure and not give legitimacy," said Deputy Health Minister Rabbi Shlomo Benizri of the religious Shas party.

"In order to win the Eurovision after 20 years, we had to send a gimmick. It's a sign of the bankruptcy of Israeli song," he added.

The win comes at a time of deepening rifts in Israeli society over the influence of religion in daily life and will likely be seen in Israel as a victory for secular Israelis.

Dana International, whose dark gray figure-hugging dress with feathered sleeves was designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier, sings in Hebrew, Arabic, French and English.

It was Israel's third victory in the song contest, making Jerusalem the venue for next year's show.

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