Arts and Culture 18 October 2016
Controversially, musical genius Bob Dylan received the Nobel Prize for literature last week.
Even some critics who acknowledged his musical brilliance have argued that awarding a musician was a step that too dramatically expanded the definition of literature. What few dispute is that his music inspired millions in the midst of the anti-war and civil rights movements.
But there is also a less pleasant, less known side to the artist, particularly his views on Israel, Meir Kahane and the Jewish Defense League.
In 1983, in The New York Times, Stephen Holden described Dylan’s album Infidels as “a disturbing artistic semirecovery by a rock legend who seemed in recent years to have lost his ability to engage the Zeitgeist.”
Holden asserted that a “stomping, hollering rhetorical tone infuses the two most specifically political songs, ‘Neighborhood Bully,’ an outspoken defense of Israel, and ‘Union Sundown,’ a gospel-blues indictment of American labor unions.”
“The lyrics suggest an angry crackpot throwing wild punches and hoping that one or two will land,” Holden added.
With its opening lyrics parroting Israel’s own narrative of being the blameless, perpetual victim of Arab violence, “Neighborhood Bully” came just a year after Israel’s bloody invasion of Lebanon that would claim tens of thousands of lives:
Well, the neighborhood bully, he’s just one man
His enemies say he’s on their land
They got him outnumbered about a million to one
He got no place to escape to, no place to run
He’s the neighborhood bully
The invasion of Lebanon was a calamitous war, widely opposed even in Israel where it was likened to the US quagmire in Vietnam.
Yet Dylan sang these words exonerating Israel even after the world had witnessed the horrifying massacres of Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by an Israeli-allied militia during the occupation of Beirut.
Today, the lyrics read like a prelude to the racist nationalism embodied in the politics of today’s Israeli leaders, including Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett.
Deeper into the tune, Dylan betrays an ignorance of the enormous support given by the US government to Israel, notably the huge influx of military support provided by the administration of President Jimmy Carter shortly before the release of the album.
That funding continues to this day with the record-breaking $38 billion in military aid over 10 years recently negotiated by the Obama administration.
Yet Dylan sings:
He got no allies to really speak of
What he gets he must pay for, he don’t get it out of love
He buys obsolete weapons and he won’t be denied
The equal rights backed by Dylan in the US seemingly have no place in his politics regarding Israel and its neighbors.
Dylan’s challenge to power in the US is transmuted into an embrace of Israeli militancy because of a flawed sense of reality, perhaps one learned from Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League (JDL) and later of the racist Kach party in Israel.
Dylan’s relationship to Kahane and the JDL is not entirely clear, but was explored by Anthony Scaduto in The New York Times in 1971.
“Dylan’s interest in Israel and Judaism led him, over a year ago, into an unexpected relationship with Rabbi Meir Kahane and the Jewish Defense League,” Scaduto wrote.
The singer reportedly attended several JDL meetings and may have given money to the organization.
Already in 1971, Scaduto wrote, “Dylan’s enthusiasm for the militant Jewish organization has brought down the wrath of some in the radical movement.”
Scaduto detailed this just four years after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Syria’s Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai had begun: “To many young radicals, including Jewish kids, Israel is simply another one of those fascist states propped up by a fascist American Government, and Dylan’s fervent support of Israel and his over-publicized contacts with the JDL are to them a further indication that he has sold out to the political right he condemned.”
Rejecting Palestinian struggle
Dylan’s drift away from the anti-war movement over the course of the next 45 years – and his clear embrace of Israel after its invasion of Lebanon – led to no surprise when he rejected the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement’s call for him not to play Israel in 2011.
The right of return for refugees, the end of the occupation and equal rights for all Palestinians – the BDS movement’s key demands – would not have resonated with the man who wrote “Neighborhood Bully.”
Ironically, both Dylan and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters performed at the Desert Trip musical festival this month.
Today, however, it is Waters who is politically relevant, with his support of the BDS movement and Black Lives Matter, his blasting of Donald Trump’s racism and his love and support for children wearing “Derriba el muro” T-shirts – Spanish for “take down the wall.”
In front of an audience of tens of thousands of festival-goers in Indio, California, Waters gave a shout-out to Students for Justice in Palestine:Both Waters and Dylan are now in their 70s; one has grown over the last 50 years in his willingness to embrace urgent contemporary struggles for freedom and equal rights. The other has stepped back from vital political engagements and yet been rewarded with a Nobel Prize.
Today it is no longer Dylan who best embodies the spirit of one of his best known lyrics:
Yes, and how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Robert Allen Zimmerman (aka Bob Dylan)
Permalink Zionism Is Not Judaism replied on
Did anyone really ever consider him as a progressive political animal? The family of his first girlfriend after he hit the Village (the Rotolos), who WERE progressive political animals, saw through the facade and wanted nothing to do with it or him.
The whole act was a concoction to further his commercial musical career. The fake prior "folkie" personal history, the assumed last name (take from the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who died in Greenwich Village in 1953) and the befriending of all the 'right people' on the scene and in the circuit. It was all fake, fake, fake, fake, fake, fake.
This is no shock.
Permalink Christina replied on
Bob Dylan is a traitor while Waters is not.
Permalink Rob Ross replied on
Bob Dylan and Israel
Permalink David replied on
It comes as no surprise that Bob Dylan supports Israel and attended meetings held by Rabbi Kahane. He ignores Israel's well documented history of dispossessing, expelling, oppressing and brutally occupying Palestine's native Arab inhabitants and jumps in bed with the Zionists.
Regarding "Even some critics who acknowledged his musical brilliance...."
In fact, as any reasonably accomplished musician will attest, Dylan is a wanker. He is at best a tenth rare guitar player and also a grossly out of tune vocalist. His "music" is banal and his lyrics are nothing special.
Sharing this with you - not a comment
Permalink Dorgham Abusalim replied on
Just thought of sharing this piece on the subject with you.
Permalink Peter replied on
Wow. Pretty sad.
I do cut him some slack for some of his stances in the early 80s and earlier. We were ALL fed alot of BS before that time, the declassification of UK documentation and the brief declassification of Israeli docs, the New Historians, etc. He'd likely have been fed more BS than even I was to that point and even I took some of those positions.
Wonder what he would say today if asked to respond... of course he's not even commented on his award to date.
Also this was a prize for literature and not the Nobel Peace Prize... which Obama got....
Well, I wouldn't listen to
Permalink D. replied on
Well, I wouldn't listen to Dylan for free on Youtube...
Permalink Colin replied on
Dylan might well have been fake all along, but turncoats are quite common among people who start as anti-establishment rebels then join the money / power clique. There are many examples in the UK, from Lloyd George to Jack Straw and Neil Kinnock. Jack Straw was a left-wing, firebrand leader of the students' union but he became a right-wing, anti-democratic Home Secretary under PM Tony Blair. David Blunkett was another socialist who became a right-wing Home Secretary and pushed Chinese-style ID Cards onto us (happily, people-power blocked the plan). Neil Kinnock MP was anti-EU and said the House of Lords should be abolished, until he was appointed EU Commissioner and later became Lord Kinnock. I won't include Tony Blair - he was a scheming liar from the start.
Permalink tom hall replied on
You could add Christopher Hitchens to the list of British leftists who finished Right-side up. Not a politician, but probably more influential than Blunkett or Straw.
Permalink david replied on
Leave Bobby alone, Dammit. He may be wrong now and then, but it is negative nit-picking in a ocean of crabs!!
Sure, to be an active backer of colonizers and
Permalink lidia replied on
war criminals is a trifle, esp for a "progressive". To whitewash colonizers - mass-murderers, ethnic cleansers, robbers and torturers - by songs just means "be wrong now and then"
Is this enought to convict him of Zionist leanings?
Permalink Rien Reality replied on
Dylan is a poet and an artist.. He defies boxes and labels .. Is that his current stance? Who knows? This article is inconclusive and the song was over 30 years ago.. Times and politics are very different now. He is an enigma and always will be.. He loves to leave people guessing and until he comes out in a declarative statement as a Zionist no-one can accuse him of being one. He has often played devil's advocate, especially in his music. Besides that, plenty of people, rightly or wrongly, even ignorantly, support Israel's right to defend itself against terrorist attacks without being Zionist or hating Palestine.. The whole mess and conflict surrounding it is a very confused political situation and I have sympathies on both sides, even though I support Palestine against Zionists and their murderous agenda, I am not unsympathetic to the idea that both sides are seriously screwed up politically and militarily. I would not go throwing accusations about Dylan's true politics without a lot more than what is out there to go by.. He is prone to surprise everybody as he has done so many times before... Try to pin him down ad he will throw you completely off centre on purpose.. It is the nature of the man.. methinks..
Even if it is Israel.. He may be taking a contrary stance to challenge people's perceptions of what is and what isn't a bully.. He does not make any political claims .. only allusions.. that seem to point to Israel historically.. He simply describes what competing perceptions can do when we are biased already in our thinking.. To some, Israel was and still is a bully.. to others the Arab world and the Nazi's were the bullies against Israel and Jews .. But the Arabs and Nazi's definitely didn't see it that way when they acted out of order .. and neither does Israel for doing the same.
His lesson could also be that the bully never sees themselves as the bully and neither do their supporters.. only their detractors.. or victims..
He NEVER denounced his backing for Zionist
Permalink lidia replied on
colonizers of Palestine. And to support Kahane means to be very much in a box with a label - I bet if some "poet and artist" backed Hitler, RR would not be so accommodating. But RR calls Zionist colonizers of Palestine just "bullies" like the Dylan. No, they are mass-murderers, ethnic cleansers, torturers and robbers.
And NO, crimes of Nazis had NOTHING to do with "Arabs", Hitler was a European. And, anyway, Zionism is not against "Jews", so both RR and Dylan are muddling the simple truth - Zionism is colonialism, and anyone who whitewash it, is a backer of colonialism.
In short, RR is trying exactly the same as Dylan - to defend the racism and colonialism.
Permalink Sandra replied on
Bob Dylan played a concert in Israel, even though his fans and the public at large pleaded with him not to. Roger Waters, and many, many other artists have not. BDS is not just to achieve peace with justice, and human rights for Palestinians; it is in the best interests of Israel to not continue to be an international pariah state and face a future of apartheid.
Permalink Alexander MacDonald replied on
It's not so complicated...either you agree with the Israeli Policies or you don't and anyone that has followed the Israeli Palestine issue knows full well who's in the wrong and who is it that commits such atrocities against an unarmed population and who it is that ethnically cleanses the rightful owners of their land.
Not so complicated at all .