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Portrait of Bob Dylan as a defender of Israel Open in fullscreen

Salama Abdul Hamid

Portrait of Bob Dylan as a defender of Israel

Dylan is the first singer-songwriter to win the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 October, 2016

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The singer-songwriter was declared winner of Nobel Prize for Literature. But his close ties with Israel, a routine abuser of human rights, are not as well known as his lyrics.

When the Swedish Academy first declared Bob Dylan as the winner of this year's Nobel Prize for Literature, the world's attention focused on him being the first singer-songwriter to win the prestigious prize that is normally awarded to writers and poets.

Days later, the attention shifted to Dylan ignoring the Academy, to the extent that he did not even mention the prize as he gave a concert in Las Vegas the day he was declared a winner.

So far, no one - including the Academy - knows if Dylan will attend the award ceremony on 10 December.

"If he doesn't want to come, he won't come. It will be a big party in any case and the honour belongs to him," said Sara Danius, the Academy's Committee Secretary.

Many people across the world wrote about awarding the most prestigious literary award to a singer; not for his voice or distinct singing, but for his unique poetry. His worthiness of the prize was debatable, with some comparing it to other awards he won, namely 11 Grammys, an Oscar, and a Golden Globe.

The Arab world itself had its share of writings about Dylan, the Nobel Prize, his poetry, and his music. They mostly mocked the idea of awarding a singer such a prestigious award, with some suggesting other names whom they thought were more worthy, referring to his close ties with Israel and his criticism of the Palestinian resistance at certain points.

On 27 October 1983, Columbia Records released Dylan's controversial second album Infidels, which included Neighborhood Bully, a pro-Israel song that mocked everyone who considered Israel to be an occupation state.

When the song was released, the world had not yet recovered from the gruesome images of the Sabra and Shatila massacre of 16 September 1982, when nearly 3,500 Palestinian refugees and a number of Lebanese civilians - mainly defenseless women, children and elders - were killed.

When the song was released, the world had not yet recovered from the gruesome images of the Sabra and Shatila massacre of 16 September 1982, when nearly 3,500 Palestinian refugees and a number of Lebanese civilians - mainly defenseless women, children and elders - were killed.

At the time, The New York Times' critic Stephen Holden described the song as "an outspoken defence of Israel", adding that Dylan was "an angry crackpot throwing wild punches and hoping that one or two will land".

Infidels, Holden said, was "a disturbing artistic semirecovery by a rock legend who seemed in recent years to have lost his ability to engage the Zeitgeist".

In the same year, Dylan visited Israel again, but this time he allowed cameras to show him in Orthodox Jewish clothing.

In response to the broad criticism of the song, Dylan justified its tone as being a point of view in one of thousands of songs he wrote, according to an interview he gave in 2004.

In a May 2016 article titled "Unearthing Bob Dylan's Forgotten pro-Israel Song", Gaby Friedman said that while "Dylan's Jewishness has been examined and reexamined over the years", his 1983 song "Neighbourhood Bully" was "a rare declaration of full-throated Israel support by a mainstream American rocker".

Friedman also mentioned that Dylan had visited Israel "several times in the late 1960s and 1970s", as well as his three concerts in Tel Aviv in 1987, 1993 and 2011.

In addition, Friedman said that Dylan was to thank for the 2014 Rolling Stones concert in Tel Aviv, the band's first visit to the country, according to Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood.

[Bob Dylan's ''Infidels''] is a disturbing artistic semirecovery by a rock legend who seemed in recent years to have lost his ability to engage the Zeitgeist.
- Stephen Holden

Dylan's ties with Israel are not limited to moral support and frequent visits; there are several indications that link him to the Zionist lobby in the United States, as well as to radical groups in Israel, including Shas, an ultra-Orthodox religious political party.

This, of course, is not new, but it is frequent.

"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," wrote Anthony Scaduto in The New York Times in 1971.

But surprisingly, many Arabs seem to be oblivious of Dylan's pro-Israel attitudes.

Instead of focusing on the political dimension of Dylan winning the Novel Prize for Literature, many Arabs started sharing a SoundCloud clip of him speaking about legendary Egyptian singer Oum Kalthoum.

Others shared a Playboy magazine interview where he spoke about his passion for oriental music and Oum Kalthoum.

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