Israel goes international

In 1998, after nearly two decades of unsuccessful entries, the Israeli representative won the big prize of the Eurovision Song Contest with the song “Diva.”

The triumph was sensational, not only because of the usual pride we feel with any international Israeli achievement, whether in sports, arts or science. But also because this time, the winner of the first prize of the camp, yet immensely popular pan-European show, was none other than Dana International, the first ever openly transgender artist to have performed in that mainstream primetime show. It’s no wonder Israelis feel excited now that Dana International was chosen to represent Israel in the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest. Dana International was born in 1972 as Yaron Cohen, the son of a Yemenite family in Tel Aviv. In 1992, already a transgender bearing the stage name “Dana International,” she released her first single. Within a short period of time she gained the status of one of the leading female vocalists in Israel, way beyond her special gender status. Therefore, for the majority of Israelis, voting for her at the pre-Eurovision contest was a natural choice, and her win was a source for delight throughout the country. However, it is needless to say that to the Israeli LGBT community, still in the process of coming out, it brought extra pride! One of the few who did not share the national happiness was the Israeli Minister of Culture at the time, an Orthodox Sephardi politician, who could not approve of the diva’s lifestyle, yet was compelled to praise her. The compromise he found for himself was that he ended up congratulating the winning, rather than the winner…

In 2001, we, here in the Bay Area shared our admiration for Dana International, when she was invited to perform as one of the headliners of San Francisco Gay Pride celebration, the city of San Francisco declared Dana International Day, and the members of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav held a long and hearty conversation with Dana in what was probably her first visit to a synagogue since her Bar Mitzvah as a boy… Since then Dana International has released several albums, served as one of the more popular judges on “A Star is Born,” the Israeli version of “American Idol,” and on March 8, 2011 Dana participated once again in the Israeli pre-Eurovision contest, and, once again won. This spring she will represent Israel, once again, with a new song, which this time she wrote herself, “Ding Dong.” 

- by Donny Inbar, Ph.D. Associate Director for Arts and Culture, the Israel Center

Categories: Israel, Videos


March 10, 2011


The Federation