28 August 2007 - Israel's number one song is...
There’s a poster hanging in the office hallway, a photograph of a woman in hijab holding a candle behind the words: “Gay Rights are Human Rights.” I never understood why the poster features an apparently Arab woman in traditional dress. The organization behind it seemed to be called “Dana International.” Who is Dana, I wondered, and why name a gay rights group after her?
Well, today the penny dropped—Dana International is one of Israel’s most popular singers. She has an amazingly cute and catchy hit, “Love Boy,” that was only released a few months ago but has apparently already become one of the most successful singles in Israeli pop history. If you know a little Hebrew, you’ll enjoy the lyrics, which are really funny and completely over-the-top.
So why is Dana a gay icon? Because she used to be a he. Dana is a transsexual, having made the switch in 1993. She then went on to win the Eurovision song contest (below) with “Diva” in 1998, bringing great pride to the country (and joy to the audience!) but great consternation to the Orthodox establishment, which was outraged that the Jewish state should be represented by a queen other than Esther.
I’ve been doing a bit of work on gay rights over the past couple of weeks, focusing on the issue of adoptions. Recently, a Jewish lesbian couple immigrated to Israel with their child, who was the biological child of one and had been adopted in the U.S. by the other. The Israeli government tried to avoid recognizing the adoption until it was defeated in court by human rights lawyers acting on the mothers’ behalf.
Now the government is trying to prevent similar occurrences in future by applying strict requirements for the recognitions of adoptions abroad by current or potential Israeli citizens. I’ve been dispatched to find ways around this, and it’s hard because the government might argue that it has a strong legitimate interest in stopping child trafficking that justifies such close scrutiny of foreign adoptions.
Israel is an amazingly vibrant democracy, and the only place in the Middle East (and perhaps the world?) where a transsexual could represent the country in a competition as an icon of its popular culture. Yet there’s a constant political insertion of religious interests into personal and family matters. Aren’t there bigger things to worry about than Diva’s breasts or whether Yael has two mommies?
UPDATE: Here are two more great Israeli Eurovision entries: Ofra Haza with Chai (1983) and Kaveret with Natati La Chayai.