Reading interviews with Dana, one thing that is very striking is her insistence that she will not discuss political issues. When that is said, her definition of politics seems to be fairly narrow – the only two concrete issues she refuses to comment directly on are Israeli party politics and the Middle East peace process. However, she has a very clear profile on several controversial political issues – especially in an Israeli context.

transgender and gay issues – Israel
Dana decided from a very early stage in her career that she would be open about being transgendered. Though the Israeli media first took the quite cynical view that this was just another marketing ploy, after a year or two this issue passed from being the main focus of the interviews. Her general success and record sales convinced the press that Dana was a serious artist, and that her personal history was just one aspect of her. In the meantime, her openness about her past (and present!) gave transgendered people a name and a face – and has had a huge impact on Israeli society.

She has also been very frank about her relationship with and origin in the gay subculture in Tel Aviv. She is very outspoken on behalf of the gay community, and has used her position as a high profile artist to push for gay rights. (Of course, there is nothing unusual in female divaesque singers being adopted by the gay community; many a singer started out with a mainly gay audience and later crossed over – like Dana has done in Israel.) The situation of gays and lesbians has improved immensely since the ban on male homosexuality was taken away in 1986. Dana's identification with the gay community – in combination with her great popularity in general in Israel – has contributed a lot to the more liberal environment lesbians, gays and transgendered are enjoying these days. (Though this is not to say that the situation is perfect – there is still a long way to go.)

For a very good description of the situation for gays and lesbians in Israel, as well as some comments on Dana's role in the gay community there, I really recommend a book by the American author Lee Walzer called Between Sodom and Eden – A Gay Journey through Today's Changing Israel. Click the book cover on the left for Washington Post's positive review – you can also order the book from Amazon by clicking the two Amazon-logos.

transgender and gay issues – internationally
Dana's international breakthrough with her Eurovision victory has in some ways brought Dana back to square one. The international media have to a large extent repeated the Israeli media's early focus on Dana being transgendered – to the near exclusion of everything else. Though she has expressed some resignation at this – as well as a wish that the media would concentrate on her as an artist – she has been fairly patient and answered their questions. Accordingly, she has now also become a symbol for T* people in Europe, both for the T* community and the general public.

Dana also chose to share her victory in the Eurovision with sexual minorites, dedicating it to transgendered, lesbians and gays. She has performed at several major gay events in Europe this summer: Stockholm EuroPride, the Amsterdam Gay Games and the Köln (Cologne) Christopher Street Day among others. She has also participated in an Amnesty Netherlands campaign for gay rights, with posters (right) all over Amsterdam.

the secular/orthodox divide in Israeli politics
Dana's stand for liberal values is very clear from her interviews with the Israeli media. The last 10-15 years or so, the divide between liberal and secular Israelis on one side, and the orthodox and ultraorthodox on the other, has become more pronounced year by year. Though the ultraorthodox and the orthodox only make up some 15-20% of the Israeli population, their importance is very big politically due to their position in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, where their votes are necessary for any party to form a government with any hope to survive in the long run. (The only alternative being a coalition between the labour party and the conservative Likud, which is currently not very likely because of their disagreement on the peace negotiations with the Palestinians.) Accordingly, the orthodox parties and MKs (members of Knesset) try to use this position to move Israeli society in a more conservative and religious direction.

Israel's liberal and secular population – some 50-70% of the population – to a certain extent resents what they see as an attack on their way of life, and many of them want the orthodox to stop interfering. The orthodox parties on their side see it as their responsibility to keep all of Israel kosher and behaving according to halakha – Jewish law as laid down by G*d – regardless of religion and personal religious belief and behaviour.

But this is not simply a dispute between the religiously observant and the secular. There is also a third group – the so-called traditionals, who believe in God, but who do not necessarily keep all the regulations stipulated in Jewish law. This is Dana's category. She has a strong belief in God, prays and keeps a kosher home, but goes out dancing on Shabbat – to take one example. Still she identifies strongly with the liberals, not only because of a strong belief in personal freedom and personal responsability towards God, but I suspect also because the orthodox have made it terribly clear that they see her as a threat. (Their problems with Dana have been covered extensively in the Israeli press, as is obvious in the media section.) Accordingly, Dana has become a strong advocate for individual freedom and delegating religious beliefs to the private sphere.

the Sefardi/Ashkenazi issue in Israel
Dana is of Yemeni origin, and thus classified as Sefardi ('oriental') as opposed to Ashkenazi ('western'). Many oriental Jews in Israel feel there is discrimination towards the oriental majority in Israel (some 55% of the population) at the hands of the elite of western origin – who are overrepresented in the political and media establishment. Dana herself is not very vocal about this issue, but I know that a lot of Sefardi Israelis see her as a symbol of Sefardim making it. There is for example a stark contrast between the leaders of the orthodox Shas party, who have been the most vocal in condemning Dana, and their voters – many of whom see her as a strong Sefardi woman who has made it. (Shas represents mainly traditional and orthodox Jews of North African origin.)

Israel's relations with the Arab world and its own Palestinian ("Israeli Arab") community
Dana refuses outright to comment on the peace process with the Palestinians. This is first and foremost because she feels there is no reason why she should try to influence her fans on this issue, but also because it is most controversial in Israel – dividing the population in two camps.

On the other hand, Dana's stand on the issue 'who is Israeli' is positively radical. Her definition of Israeli is people who have Israeli citizenship – including the Palestinian minority, Christians, Muslims, Circassians and Druze. (Significantly, she does not include the ultraorthodox as she feels they are putting themselves above/on the side of Israeli society.) The 'Israeli Arabs' are of course in principle citizens of the country just like the Jewish population, but most Jewish Israelis tend to mean 'Jewish Israeli' when they say 'Israeli'. Dana has explicitly included Israeli non-Jews when saying who she represented in the Eurovision – and this is fairly uncommon.

Dana's public statements on the neighbouring Arab countries have been coloured by her personal experience with fame in the Arab world. On one hand, she has enjoyed huge fame and popularity in the Arab world – on the other hand she has been met with incredible conspiracy theories condemning her as a Mossad spy out to corrupt Arab youth. The bewilderment Dana and her Arab fans show towards each other, to a certain extent points out how little Israelis and Arabs really know about each others' societies: Neither are very informed when it comes to understanding each other according to their own context.

Israel's image in the Western world
Something Dana has been very conscious about since the international media started showing interest in her in November 1997, was her role as a representative of Israel in the west. She tries repeatedly to portray Israel as more than ultraorthodox fanatics, bombscares and the peace process, and stresses the European, liberal and above all normal character of Israeli society.

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