A video promoting Tel Aviv’s Gay Pride Parade featuring Israeli transsexual star Dana International dancing suggestively in a synagogue in front of children has been taken offline after the parents of one of the youngsters claimed they did not provide consent to participate.
The family, believing the video to be part of an “innocent” tourism campaign, complained after seeing it on national TV. The controversy came on the eve of the parade, an annual celebration expected to attract more than 120,000 people.
The two-minute clip featuring Dana’s new single, Kids Are Much Fun, in which the singer, wearing a blond wig and long black dress, poses suggestively as a boy meant to be her son reads from the Torah during his barmitzvah.
The video was filmed in a Tel Aviv synagogue, using 15 boys who were recruited from a religious school in a nearby suburb.
The video’s director, Omer Tobi, said the students were picked by a nephew of Dana’s manager who is the main character in the video. While Mr Tobi said the theme of the video was clear from the outset, the parents of one of the boys said they were misled.
A relative of the sixth grader said he was invited to participate in a short film “simply” about a bar mitzvah intended to promote tourism in Israel.
“That’s all what we knew, that’s what we agreed for him to participate (in). Nothing more, nothing less,” the relative said. “We never signed anything.”
The relative, a religious Jew, said he knew Dana would be in the video, but was shocked to learn of the larger context only after it aired on an Israeli entertainment show on Sunday.
“Kids should not be involved in a gay parade in any way, religious or not religious. Because of me being religious, it’s more offensive,” he said, adding: “We thought it was (going to be) so innocent.”
Parade organisers said they moved quickly to protect the identity of the children once they were contacted by the boy’s parents. They have requested that the children’s faces be blurred before the video is shown again. In the meantime, a YouTube link to the video is now marked “private”.
Mr Tobi, the video’s director, said at least three adults, and a Tel Aviv municipality employee, were on the set to supervise throughout the filming. He speculated that parents may have complained after being pressured by religious leaders or the school. But after receiving the complaint, Dana’s manager blocked the video where it originally appeared on YouTube.
“It was very important for me not to lie or to pass incorrect information to the other side,” Mr Tobi said, though he acknowledged that he knew the video might cause some controversy.
Mr Tobi also directed last year’s Tel Aviv Gay Pride video, which raised eyebrows by showing Middle Eastern-looking men kissing passionately on the beach.
Dana’s manager, Shay Kerem, defended the video, saying it was meant to challenge the belief that homosexuality is unacceptable in society and in a house of worship. “You can’t say that God belongs just to straight people,” he said.
Dana – born in Tel Aviv as Yaron Cohen – achieved international fame in 1998 after winning the Eurovision Song Contest with the song Diva. The victory stirred a backlash in religious circles back home, but she has gone on to a successful career as a singer and entertainer.
Her success has helped transform Tel Aviv into a mecca for gay pride and culture, and the annual pride parade is its main symbol and tourist attraction. It is the largest event of its kind in the Middle East.