Bob Dylan's music may have inspired a generation of anti-war activism and earned him a Nobel Prize for literature last week. But less well known, the critic Michael F. Brown wrote Tuesday in the Electronic Intifada, is Dylan's defense – in song – of the illegal Israeli occupation.
Brown notes that Dylan’s “Neighborhood Bully” which was released a year after Israel’s bloody invasion of Lebanon, parrots “Israel’s own narrative of being the blameless, perpetual victim of Arab violence."
Brown describes Dylan by the acronym, PEP or “Progressive Except on Palestine” with ties to the Israeli state, the Jewish Defense League and its racist founder, Meir Kahane.
In 1983, The New York Times’ Stephen Holden described Dylan’s album Infidels as “a disturbing artistic semi-recovery by a rock legend who seemed in recent years to have lost his ability to engage the Zeitgeist.”
He asserted that “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 go:
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
And while Dylan’s relationship to Kahane and the JDL is not clear, Scaduto wrote in 1971 that the singer attended several meetings of the militant organization and may have even given money to fund it.
“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.
Even as early as 1971, “Dylan’s enthusiasm for the militant Jewish organization has brought down the wrath of some in the radical movement.”
“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,” Scaduto continued.
With ties this close to the apartheid state, it’s no surprise the musician rejected the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions’ (BDS) call in 2011 not to play there.
While the Nobel prize committee is reportedly struggling to contact Dylan to inform him of his win – and many are debating whether the award doesn't stretch the meaning of the word 'literature' – his embrace of Israel's occupation of Palestine is ironic, given one of his best-known lyrics:
Yes, and how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?