Diva wins song contest
May 15, 1998
As more than 100 million people from more than 30 European countries tuned in to the BBC on Saturday night, May 9, for the 43rd annual Eurovision Song Contest, Israel's Dana International cemented herself in Israeli history as a national hero. A transsexual disco diva, International, who got her start in Tel-Aviv's Gay nightclubs, offered a performance which brought the coveted Eurovision championship title back to Israel for the first time in almost 20 years, and for only the third time in history.
The immensely popular Eurovision contest has been characterized as a type of musical Olympics. It was held in Birmingham, England, this year, with 25 countries from around Europe, and Israel from the Middle East, entering. Each submitted one song to be performed at the contest. (Entries are restricted to countries with membership in the television distribution network Eurovision, operated by the European Broadcasting Union). International's song, "Diva," took first place, narrowly beating out the United Kingdom's popular performer Imaani. International was the first openly transgender person to win the competition and the first to compete as well.
International won Israel's national competition last November to represent the country. Her victory drew fire from conservative national legislators who called her an "abomination" and said her selection would "send a message of darkness to the world." She lost the same national competition in 1995, with a different song, and charged then that she had been passed over because she is transsexual.
International has been popular in Israel for years, well known for her performances in Tel-Aviv's Gay nightclubs. Since her first album in 1993, International's recordings have topped the charts in Israel and have been hot items as bootlegs in Egypt and Jordan as well. The triumph of her winning song, which features a ringing chorus (in Hebrew) of "Viva we will cheer ... Viva to the Diva," prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pledge May 11 that he will bring the contest to Jerusalem next year.
The prime minister's statements re-ignited controversy about International and the Eurovision contest. According to Reuters news service, Netanyahu told reporters that International's victory was "an honorable achievement" and defied vows from conservative political figures, usually Netanyahu's allies, to block attempts to make Jerusalem the host site for the 1999 Eurovision contest. Asked if he supports efforts to bring the contest to Jerusalem, Netanyahu said he did and went a step further, according to Reuters, declaring, "Certainly -- it will be."
As for International, following her victory on BBC television, she declared, "This just goes to show the world is open-minded and liberated. We are all equal."
by Kai Wright, The Washington Blade