Eurovision winner Dana International has told a Limmud audience that life for LGBT people has changed for the better in Israel – although the Chareidim in government were still making their lives difficult.
Transsexual Dana, speaking on Monday only a few yards from the Birmingham Arena where she won the song contest 20 years ago with Diva said: “Back in 1998, the Orthodox said I was the wrong person to send to the Eurovision [because of her sexuality].
“So, I said to my manager, ‘why not take this ugly lemon and turn it into delicious lemonade?’ So, I manipulated the Orthodox against themselves.”
She added that although “nothing has changed” with regard to Orthodox attitudes – “because the Torah hasn’t changed” – “we are stronger now. We have social media, we have the internet, and we know how to respond. So, they have to think 10 times before saying anything nasty about us.”
Back in 1998, Dana, who will perform again at next year’s Eurovision in Tel Aviv, said she was shocked how little the outside world knew about Israel – “they thought it was 100 percent Orthodox Jews and camels. And I tried to explain that we are a liberal state and we love everyone.”
Talking about the LGBT community is not the problem in Israel today, Dana said. “It is much more important to talk about Holocaust survivors in Israel, who suffer because the government has cut their allowances,” she said.
“They cannot buy food to eat or medication. We in the LGBT community are last ones who have problems compared to them.”
She bemoaned Israel’s democracy, saying “how can it be democratic to have Orthodox parties in the coalition government who get their laws from the Bible?”
But, with the April elections in mind, the Diva said: “What was, will be. People don’t vote with their heads. They vote with their emotions – fear, security and statements like ‘we will win, we will conquer them’ are what win elections in Israel.”
Asked about the decision to hold the contest next year in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem, she said: “I won in Birmingham, not London. Tel Aviv is good for the Eurovision. It’s sunnier and more open. And, I live just a few minutes’ walk from the event.”