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Israeli Singer a Controversial Hero

May 11, 1998

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Appalled that an Israeli transsexual singer won Europe’s biggest song contest, religious leaders vowed Monday to block the competition from being held in Jerusalem next year.

``As far as I am concerned it shouldn’t take place in the Holy Land at all,″ said Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox deputy mayor, Haim Miller. ``It should stay in the land of the gentiles.″

In the past, the Eurovision contest was ignored by Israel’s Orthodox community. But this year’s entry by Dana International caused outrage. Religious legislators have called the singer a disgrace to the Jewish state and even considered toppling Netanyahu’s government over the issue.

Secular Israelis, however, can’t get enough of the sultry singer, who was a man before a sex change operation in 1993.

The singer’s supporters hailed her Saturday victory in the Eurovision contest in Birmingham, England, as a sign of increasing acceptance of the country’s gay community. Dana International won with the song ``Diva.″

``They (the religious) didn’t want her to go but she went and she won big,″ said Niv Sever, a gay politician with the liberal Meretz party.

Although Miller was instrumental in halting Israel’s premier modern dance troupe, Batsheva, from performing seminude last month at Israel’s jubilee bash, ultra-Orthodox leaders may face a difficult battle in banning Eurovision from Jerusalem.

Israel considers Jerusalem to be its capital and hopes the popular contest, watched by millions, may lend some international legitimacy to its claim of sovereignty over all of the disputed city. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as their future capital.

Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert dismissed his deputy as a ``blabbermouth″ and called his threats to prevent the Eurovision contest from coming to the holy city ``laughable.″

``Eurovision will take place in Jerusalem,″ he said.

But just in case, the speaker of Israel’s parliament offered Jerusalem’s Knesset building _ where city hall has no authority _ as a back-up venue.

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