May 30th, 2012

Speaking of Obama and Jews…

…(and we were, at least sort of) did you know that some of his best friends are? And that he thinks he knows more about Judaism than any past president, because he read about it?

By the way, at the ceremony where Obama honored Jan Karski and made his controversial error, he also gave the same award—the Presidential Medal of Freedom—to many others, including Toni Morrison, John Glenn, Madeleine Albright, and Shimon Peres.

And to Bob Dylan, who got a lot of press coverage for wearing his shades for the occasion:

Ouch, Dylan’s looking—there’s really no other word for it—old. He’s only 71, but I guess he’s packed a lot of living into those years, and I suppose he never was what you’d call robust.

But why the Medal of Freedom? I dunno. Dylan did write a song called “Chimes of Freedom” back in 1964, but that doesn’t seem quite enough.

The answer, my friends, is blowin’ in the wind…

However, a somewhat lesser-known effort of Dylan’s ties into the Jewish and the political, which after all is the theme of this post. Are you familiar with the lyrics of Dylan’s 1983 “Neighborhood Bully,” which seems to be on the topic of Israel? Here it is:

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 neighborhood bully just lives to survive
He’s criticized and condemned for being alive
He’s not supposed to fight back, he’s supposed to have thick skin
He’s supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in
He’s the neighborhood bully

The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land
He’s wandered the earth an exiled man
Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn
He’s always on trial for just being born
He’s the neighborhood bully

Well, he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized
Old women condemned him, said he should apologize.
Then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad
The bombs were meant for him. He was supposed to feel bad
He’s the neighborhood bully

Well, the chances are against it and the odds are slim
That he’ll live by the rules that the world makes for him
’Cause there’s a noose at his neck and a gun at his back
And a license to kill him is given out to every maniac
He’s the neighborhood bully

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
But no one sends flesh and blood to fight by his side
He’s the neighborhood bully

Well, he’s surrounded by pacifists who all want peace
They pray for it nightly that the bloodshed must cease
Now, they wouldn’t hurt a fly. To hurt one they would weep
They lay and they wait for this bully to fall asleep
He’s the neighborhood bully

Every empire that’s enslaved him is gone
Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon
He’s made a garden of paradise in the desert sand
In bed with nobody, under no one’s command
He’s the neighborhood bully

Now his holiest books have been trampled upon
No contract he signed was worth what it was written on
He took the crumbs of the world and he turned it into wealth
Took sickness and disease and he turned it into health
He’s the neighborhood bully

What’s anybody indebted to him for?
Nothin’, they say. He just likes to cause war
Pride and prejudice and superstition indeed
They wait for this bully like a dog waits to feed
He’s the neighborhood bully

What has he done to wear so many scars?
Does he change the course of rivers? Does he pollute the moon and stars?
Neighborhood bully, standing on the hill
Running out the clock, time standing still
Neighborhood bully

[ADDENDUM: As for why the sunglasses, so far Dylan has been mum. Ann Althouse and her husband speculate here that it’s because Dylan felt emotional and doesn’t like scrutiny.

But being the intrepid researcher and truth-seeker that I am, I offer Dylan’s own words from this 1978 interview with Playboy that might shed some light (ahem) on the situation:

PLAYBOY: Would you say you still have a rebellious, or punk, quality toward the rest of the world?

DYLAN: Punk quality?

PLAYBOY: Well, you’re still wearing dark sunglasses, right?

DYLAN: Yeah.

PLAYBOY: Is that so people won’t see your eyes?

DYLAN: Actually, it’s just habit-forming after a while, I still do wear dark sunglasses. There is no profound reason for it, I guess. Some kind of insecurity, I don’t know: I like dark sunglasses. Have I had these on through every interview session?

PLAYBOY: Yes. We haven’t seen your eyes yet.

DYLAN: Well, Monday for sure. [The day that PLAYBOY photos were to be taken for the opening page]

And you can order your Dylan sunglasses from Sears. Who knew?]

14 Responses to “Speaking of Obama and Jews…”

  1. Conrad Says:

    I was never a fan of Dylan’s music, but he seems like a decent guy. One thing I was tickled to read about him a few years ago is that he’s a golfer.

  2. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    I’m pretty tired of these seemingly endless White House (payoff) ceremonies, when a bunch of hacks, has-beens, second-raters, reliable Lefties, Presidential supporters, and almost dead cronies get this or that medal.

    I have seen few, if any, of these “honorees” in recent years that, I thought, deserved it.

    Give it a rest.

    Maybe, instead, “Wise Blackman” Obama—expert in all things Jewish– could go to the local shul, and brush up on the Hebrew that Presidents Jefferson and Hamilton–both literate in Hebrew–used to read the Torah.

  3. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    P.S.–Hard as it is to believe in these days of LGBT Victim Studies, and courses in the Socio-dynamics of TV Soap Operas, in past centuries, here in England and the U.S., the undergraduate curriculum in first rank universities like Harvard (no, not today’s Harvard of Obama, Elizabeth Lieawatha Warren, James Ogletree, Lawrence Tribe, and Lewis Gates, Jr.) usually required a good reading knowledge of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew (so as to be able to read the Bible in the original languages) this back, of course, when the study of Religion was the backbone of study.

    Back then students managed to handle this “crushing” load quite well.

  4. RandomThoughts Says:

    Wolla Dalbo, next thing you’ll be telling us they actually gained an education, rather than an indoctrination.

    How archaic.

  5. Mac Says:

    “Lieawatha” [snort] That’s good.

    There is a variant of this photo around in which O is further along in the process of putting the medal on BD, and it made me think of a garroting in progress.

  6. rickl Says:

    I had a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses with prescription lenses years ago. I’m very nearsighted.

    They were stolen from my glove compartment. I still get a chuckle thinking about the thief putting them on.

  7. rickl Says:

    Bob Dylan is one of the true giants of American culture, and he deserves absolutely any honor he gets.

    I’d be interested in reading or hearing about any words he spoke at the ceremony.

    But Obama said this:

    “No one ever picks up a guitar, or fights a disease, or starts a movement, thinking: ‘You know what? If I keep this up, in 2012 I could get a medal in the White House from a guy named Barack Obama. That wasn’t in the plan. But that’s exactly what makes this award so special,” Obama said.

    So it’s really all about Obama. God, how I loathe that man.

  8. neo-neocon Says:

    rickl: wow. That’s quite a quote from Obama. If he’d only left out the “from a guy named Barack Obama” part it wouldn’t be so strange. But he just couldn’t resist.

  9. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    Never was a much a of a fan of Dylan’s. I was too old or too put off by the “reveolutionaries” when his music came along. That said, I really like the lyrics to “Neighborhood Bully.” He explains Israel”s situation perfectly.

  10. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States Says:

    A friend of mine, a Jew, once quipped that the only good Dylan albums were those done when he was Jewish. This was back ca. 1985, so ignore anything he’s done since then, or, if you’re a fan, feel free to extend to current times as an intellectual exercise to see if it still has any merit.

  11. Sam L. Says:

    Bobby was expressing his inner Roy Orbison.

  12. rickl Says:


    His last four or five albums, since the late 90s, are among his very best. Actually the 80s were probably the lowest point in his career overall.

  13. richard saunders Says:


    Maybe Warren could marry Tribe. Then she could say truthfully, “I am definitely affilated with a Tribe.”

    Wolla Dalbo:

    First the “Constitutional law professor” has to learn about the Constitution, which every Harvard student in the 19th Century knew intimately, and about which he knows nothing at all.

  14. Artfldgr Says:

    Dylan wears the sunglasses because he is completely burnt out..

    if you saw him on stage in the past 20 years you would know… he is mentally gone much like whats his name from pink floyd..

    with the wilberries he had to be led to the mike, missed cues, etc.

    burnt out and gone…

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