Welcome to 70 Faces of Israel. To celebrate 70 years since the establishment of the State of Israel, we’re looking at 70 people whose remarkable stories have changed our country and the world.
Name: Sharon Cohen (born Yaron Cohen; stage name Dana International)
Date of Birth: 2nd February 1972, Tel Aviv, Israel
Claim to Fame: Eurovision Song Contest Winner (1998)
In 1972… Dana International was born
Born in Tel Aviv to a family of both Yemenite and Romanian Jewish descent, Cohen loved music from a young age. Seeing Ofra Haza perform “Chai” in Eurovision 1983 inspired her to pursue a career in music. Her mother worked exclusively to make money for her music and singing lessons.
Although assigned male at birth, she identified as female from a young age and underwent reassignment surgery in 1993. She made a name for herself aged just 18 as Israel’s first drag queen, Dana International. Her stage name is inspired by her mixed-heritage background and a feminised version of Daniel, a deceased childhood friend.
An Israeli DJ discovered Dana International as a teenager, and following her reassignment surgery, helped her release her first album. Entitled Danna International, it became a gold record in Israel and sold well across several other countries. Dana’s second album, inspired by trance music, went platinum and saw her claim Best Female Artist of the Year in Israel.
She first entered the Eurovision qualifying content in 1995, but finished in second place. Two albums later, she represented Israel in the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest in Birmingham, UK, and stormed to victory. She gained a place on the international music stage and used her global interviews to make transsexuality a mainstream issue.
Dana International remained in the mainstream music scene in both Israel and Europe since her victory. Her music is well received in Israel and successful across Europe. As well as releasing new music, she judges an Israeli TV show called “Yeshnan Banot” which looks to create new girl bands.
Watch the moment Israel won Eurovision and Dana International’s winning performance below. “Diva” was released in Europe. It reached number 11 in the UK and the top ten charts in the Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium, Sweden, and Finland.
Previously: 1971: Chaim Topol
Up next: 1973: Ephraim Katzir