19th June 1998

The unkindest cut of them all

She’s the most famous Jewish woman since Golda Meir. The only thing about the Dana International story which makes me throw my hands over my head and scream, “No! No!” – her blood-curdling allusions to the operation that turned him into her.

When she won Eurovision the Israeli singer who used to be a boy named Yaron Cohen said: “After several years of wearing dresses and high heels, I decided I needed a little, well, cosmetic surgery to feel completely myself.

“Of course, I was nervous – I hate going to the dentist. But I talked to girlfriends who had been through the process. I knew what was ahead. I knew there would be a lot of pain, and sure, it was a tough week. But once I was through that, I was a new person.”

The ‘process’? A ‘tough week’? It leaves far too much to the imagination. Sex change is more than cosmetic. It’s fundamental. Thinking about the physical courage required to lie down on a hospital matress and say, “Go ahead, Doc – chop it off” made me realise what a true heroine Dana is.

Consider what she’s fighting: her fear, her family’s attitudes, her neighbours’ gossip, her government’s disapproval, her religion’s condemnation.

Think how much easier it would be to carry on disobeying the Torah in secret. Dana admits she used to frequent the parks “where boys hang around to meet other boys”. According to Judaic law, boys with boys is to’evah, an abomination – but at least a quarter of Jewish men have committed the abomination. In Israel 25,000 people are openly gay – and at least as many more would love to share Dana’s bravery and come out themselves.

Nowhere in the Torah is a sex change forbidden. This minor fact does not mollify the Shas party, and Knesset deputy Shlomo Ben-Izri reacted to Dana’s selection for Eurovision with this attack: “Such things were unheard of, even in Sodom. This hybrid creature, a cross between a man and a woman, is not the kind of produce we need to represent the chosen people.”

By winning, she altered that. Benjamin Netanyahu’s office phoned to congratulate her – it’s doubtful whether he would have called to commiserate had she come second. Ministers like Moshe Katsav were suddenly anxious to be photographed with her.Winning atones for a whole lifetime of transgressions.

To thousands of Israelis who did not possess her full quotient of reckless courage, Dana is an icon. They flocked to her Tel Aviv apartment after the victory – “cheering for freedom,” she says, “cheering for human rights, for democracy. I do not need the rabbis to tell me I am acceptable to God. I have my own romance going on with the Lord.”

At the weekend she joined a British celebration for Gay Pride, performing at the Polo Lounge in Wilson Street, Glasgow. Her single Diva is on worldwide release after the Hebrew-speaking chairman of Sony Music UK, Paul Burger, signed her.

She has already sold millions of cassettes in the Middle East, particularly Eygpt and Jordan where pirate tapes were widely available until rumours spread she was a Mossad-trained corrupter of youth and her music was banned.

Next April’s Gay Pride Week in Israel will gather huge impetus from her triumph, with organisers already promising a march and a motorcade from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. The Jewish world had better accept her – she’s the most formidable ambassador Israel has invented for years.

Uri Geller’s Little Book Of Mindpower is published by Robson Books at £2.50, and his novel Ella by Headline Feature at £5.99

Visit his website at www.urigeller.com and e-Mail him at [email protected]


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