In 1998, the contradictions of contemporary Israel coalesced in the figure of Dana International. Born Yaron Cohen in 1972, she became a phenomenon in Israel for her club hits, including “Saida Sultana,” which began as a parody of Whitney Houston’s “My Name Is Not Susan” and was a New York club hit in the summer of 1993—the same year Cohen underwent gender-reassignment surgery.
Named Best Female Artist of the Year in Israel in 1994, after her second album went platinum, Dana was selected as Israel’s official entry for the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest, an annual extravaganza of kitsch and Europop, in which some 40 countries compete. Secular Israelis cheered, Orthodox Jews jeered, and Dana went on to win, appropriately, with “Diva,” telling critics that her success proved God was on her side. A recording contract with Sony followed, and a 2005 poll by Israeli news site Ynet saw Dana voted the 47th greatest Israeli of all time.