A victory not celebrated by everyone
May 11, 1998
Eurovision Song Contest winner Dana International said yesterday morning her victory Saturday night was a present for Israel on its jubilee. But as is the case with most gifts, this present did not please everyone.
While the gay community saw International's victory as a blessing, many in the national-religious camp -- which generally takes pride in Israeli achievements in any field -- were less than thrilled.
The haredim were generally appalled by International, and among the voices heard in the secular community, it was hard to tell whether the joy was for an Israeli victory or the ability to "stick it" to the haredim following the recent Jubilee Bells fiasco.
Whatever the case, Dana International is not Gali Atari, the winning song "Diva" is not "Hallelujah," and the latest victory -- although it brought many people a great deal of pride -- did not have the same chest-puffing effect on as many people as Atari's victory with "Hallelujah" did in 1979.
The song, the singer and the reaction show just how much the country has changed in 20 years.
"This has raised our spirits to new heights," said Yair Keidar, editor of the gay monthly Hazman Havarod. "It is the best thing to happen to the gay community here in 50 years. Dana got where she got without forgetting where she came from."
International, Keidar said, has maintained close ties with the Tel-Aviv gay scene, and her entourage includes a number of people who are openly gay.
What bothered Keidar yesterday were those saying that International won not on the strength of her voice or the song, but because of a gimmick: her sexuality.
"Dana did not win because of who she is, but despite who she is," Keidar said.
Not so, said Uri Bank, a 29-year-old Jerusalemite and Moledet Party activist. Bank, who wears a knitted kippa, said he always feels pride when an Israeli wins anything anywhere.
But this time the pride was outweighed by what he said was the reason she won -- "the gimmick."
"She did not win because of the song, or the dance, but because of the sex change. In my mind, she is not what represents Israeli culture," he said.
Bank, who was among an estimated two million viewers who watched the show here, said he was actually hoping that Malta would out-poll Israel in Macedonia's deciding ballot.
National Religious Party MK Nissan Slomiansky said he separates between the song and the singer.
"I feel pride at the song, but think we could have found somebody better suited to represent us," he said.
Reactions from the haredi camp ranged from the low-key to the keyed up.
United Torah Judaism's Moshe Gafni said on Israel Radio that one of the things he learned from the fallout following the Jubilee Bells incident was that it is not necessary to take a stand on every issue -- so he declined to comment on Dana International.
At the other extreme was Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Haim Miller, who pledged that next year's Eurovision competition would not take place in Jerusalem -- or anywhere in Israel -- if he could help it.
Meanwhile, Deputy Health Minister Shlomo Benizri (Shas), who led opposition to International when she was chosen to represent Israel, said yesterday, "I have no interest in the Eurovision -- it interests me about as much as the amount of snow in Antarctica."
Benizri, who spoke on Israel Radio and chose his words carefully, said he takes pride in other achievements, "such as the Arrow missile, the writing of a good book, or spiritual achievements. But for those who are happy and feel pride today, they should have a mazal tov."
And many people did feel pride. In downtown Jerusalem, most people stopped randomly said they were pleased at the victory.
"This is good for Israel," said Uri Bogayev, 57, a shoemaker who immigrated nine years ago from Uzbekistan. "The main thing is that it made a lot of people happy."
Bogayev, who wears a kippa, said he was unaware of International's sex change until his daughter mentioned it to him while he was watching the contest.
"It's not something I'm in favor of," he said, "but I don't think we have to worry about how it looks abroad. There are more serious religious infractions here."
Dror Yehoyada, 40, who owns a clothing store in downtown Jerusalem, said he was very pleased by the contest for a couple of reasons. "I'm glad anytime we win something, and especially now, after the Jubilee Bells. This shows the haredim."
"This is a schizophrenic country," Yehoyada said. "One day dancers can't appear in underwear, and the next day we are sending a transsexual to represent us. This just shows we are a young country without a long tradition of culture, still trying to work things out."
by Herb Keinon, The Jerusalem Post