Neighborhood Bully

There is something distasteful about Neighbourhood Bully, despite Dylan’s assertions that it is not about Zionism.  Maybe it is not.  Maybe it is just about the state of Israel.  I would always appreciate that one is not the other, but still…


The point is that if you are going to write a song in praise of something it is best either to be romantic, or to evolve a scene of pastel colours, and soft tones.  If you want to be tough, be selective in what you say.  If you get into hard facts it is always going to be difficult if you slip up at any point and ay something that is palpably untrue.


In Neighbourhood Bully there’s eleven bouncing rocking strophic verses all fixed on three chords.  It gives you a sense of power and certainty.  You want to say, wow, yeah, let’s go and get them.  Except, except…


Take the opening.   “His enemies say, he’s on their land”.  Yes, when speaking of the state of Israel, most of the world, and United Nations Resolution 242, say that the land Israel took during the six days war should be returned to the countries from which it took the land.  Long term occupation is not acceptable. 


So Dylan’s got it right there.  People do say Israel is on their neighbours’ land.  Equally most people with a semblance of a balanced view of the world acknowledge that the Six Days War was not started by Israel, and that Israel showed extraordinary military ability by knocking out all their neighbours so quickly.


But where does that get us?   Simply to an argument that says that Israel has made matters worse for itself by continuing the occupation, and that had it worked out a settlement within the first year, it would not still be fighting.  Can’t prove it of course, but it is an argument.


What has all this got to do with “Neighborhood Bully”?  Simply that by invoking a line such as “on their land” in the second out of 55 lines of a song, Dylan invites us to get involved in such debate.  The song continues by telling us how badly off Israel is, how everyone is against Israel, and then we have….


Verse six, which opens with the classic, “He got no allies to really speak of,” and we think simply of the United States of America, and are reminded of the fact that 40% of Israel’s budget is spent on defence – an insane level of expenditure which can only be maintained by the financial contribution of the USA.


This is not to attempt in a few lines to have a serious debate about Israel, but to think about the song.  If Dylan really wants to make a statement about Israel, then putting that line in is catastrophic.  For the neutral listener it destroys the song in one simple line – and we still have five and a half verses to go.


Back on the political front, in writing this I am of course aware that the US also gives extraordinary levels of aid to Egypt, following the Camp David Accord, and I’m aware of the corruption and insanity of the many Arab regimes – indeed I have lived part of my life in one of the Arab protagonists against Israel, which at least gives me a little insight.


But I repeat this is not the main thrust of my problem with this song.  It is the point I made at the start.  If you are going to do a political song, you don’t have to be balanced (no such song ever is), and your facts don’t have to be inclusive (ditto).   But you have to avoid lines which are just so incredibly wrong that they bring the whole song down and make those who don’t believe dismiss what you have said.


Think of “Times they are a changing”.  It brings us all together, and joins everyone.   “Neighbourhood Bully” just pushes people further apart.

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17 Responses to Neighborhood Bully

  1. Zachi says:

    > Take the opening. “His enemies say, he’s on their land”. Yes, when speaking of the state > of Israel, most of the world, and United Nations Resolution 242, say that the land Israel took > during the six days war should be returned to the countries from which it took the land. >>Long term occupation is not acceptable

    The problem is that those countries (Jordan and Egypt) doesn’t want that land back, and especially the Palestinians.
    It was Jewish land, and by several empires till 1948, when it was given to Jordan. It was never Palestians land and there were never a Palestinian nation.

    >Verse six, which opens with the classic, “He got no allies to really speak of,” and we think >simply of the United States of America, and are reminded of the fact that 40% of Israel’s
    > budget is spent on defence – an insane level of expenditure which can only be maintained by > the financial contribution of the USA.

    The US didn’t help Israel in its first decades. Secondly, the US support today is only 2.25 billion $. That is a quarter of Israel Defense budget, which is today 9% (3 times more than the US) of the state budget.

  2. D. Law says:

    “only 2.25 billion $”?

    Even if that figure is accurate (it doesn’t include the price of all the free weapons that are given by the U.S. as “aid”) it’s still $6 million of U.S. taxpayers’ money – PER DAY – given to a brutal occupying regime.

    “He got no allies to really speak of” is an offensive lie, and shows Dylan to be either stupid, wilfully ignorant, or deliberately manipulative. None of those is any good.

  3. Rq says:

    Wow I thought always neighbourhood bully was about Palestine and Israel as the aggressor , calling Palestine the neighbourhood bully. But if Dylan says it’s not about israel or Palestine then I believe him.

  4. Noah says:

    1) “His enemies say, he’s on their land”. – When Dylan wrote the song the PLO (and later Hamas) was on record that ALL of modern Israel (not just the Gaza strip and West Bank) was rightfully Palestinian and Israel as a country should be destroyed. No matter what side you’re on, Dylan was correct.
    2) “He got no allies to really speak of” – saying Israel had no allies would be a lie, but Dylan couches it with “to really speak of” so again, you may disagree, but he’s just sharing his opinion. That’s his right as the songwriter.
    3) People said there was “something distasteful” about Dylan going electric, abandoning the protest songs in the late 60s, and releasing “Saved.” Here’s an electric protest song with religious undertones in the 80’s! I’ll take “Neighborhood Bully” over anything on “knocked out loaded” or “Down in the Groove” anyday.

  5. td says:

    The arabs could build another Dubai and house all their plo haamas buddies but they dont because of their deep beddoin roots and iran

    israel (tries) and run a stable economy

    you cant for war and try and have a stable economy

    israels biggest mistake is having fallen into the usa socialist trap of worrying about the pr game

  6. dJ says:

    Actually if you look at the song Hurricane about Hurricane Carter (wrongfully accused of murder), that song is one sided- and I would not want that song to be PC either.

  7. METW says:

    Yes, most of the world would say that Israel is “on their [arab] land” – that’s really the problem, actually. Most of the world seem to like someone else to do their thinking, and especially their research for them, and tell them what to think. My first question to anyone who starts trying to tell me that Israel should give the eastern part of their country to arab people is: “Can you please give me your summary of the middle east history since 1914?” Last time I asked I was told the history is irrelevant.
    This means that the Balfour Declaration, the Sykes/Picot treaty, the division of Palestine 75 -25 between arabs and jews in 1922, by Churchill as an attempt to honour Britain’s promise to the arabs and the jews during WW1 that in return for help in defeating the Turks, they would each inherit part of the Ottoman Empire. Specifically the arabs – Syria, and the jews – Palestine. At the time, Palestine extended east, right to Iraq.
    People such as Dr. Weismann, Prince Feisal, TE Lawrence were involved. In fact, TE Lawrence helped ther arabs fight for Britain against Turkey because he believed they would get Syria. When he learned of the betrayal he left, ashamed of himself and the allies.
    In 1948, for 8 months the sovereign state of Israel reached from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. This newly born state was attacked the day after it became a country by arab nations all around. But for 8 months all of that land was recognised as Israel. In 1949 the war was ended, and Jordan occupied an area of eastern Israel. Over the next few years it was – deceitfully to my mind – actually renamed “the west bank” to separate it from Israel. In 1967 Jordan’s occupation was ended as Israel fought off another united arab attack bent on simply eradicating the land of Israel.
    Since that moment, people who are either: ignorant of history; don’t like Israel; easily led; call eastern Israel “the west bank” …which has, as if according to some weird plan morphed into the even more illusory “Palestinian territories”; and is now attempting to descend on the area of eastern Israel as the “Palestinian State”. The power of the media.
    Given that Israel has constantly been under attack by arab countries since it came into existence in 1948, I think it is understandable that they would not really want to give up any of their very small proportion of land, eventually rightfully given to them, as agreed, as the arabs were given theirs, when it would mean Israel inviting their proven enemy to live on a sizeable portion of their own land, and become yet another arab nation chafing at the bit to wipe them out and drive them into the sea…their oft repeated desire.
    In fact, if Israel were to agree to this ridiculous pressure from people in any of those ill informed camps named above, they would have reduced the distance that the arabs had to drive them into the sea to…Ten Miles. Wow, what a lovely suggestion. Clever, good thinking, so, we’ll go with that then.
    Now, I like Bob, I think he is amazingly intelligent, honest, insightful, and a great musician, and you know, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he actually did bother to do his research before he wrote this song.
    But don’t take my word for it. Check it all out yourself, And listen to it again. (It’s on Infidels.)
    But that’s my take on Bob’s song. My actual take on the issue is simply this: Even if you discount the history, there are five arab nations in the area: taken from the top: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt with a total land area of – 3,428,000 sq kilometres. Right? Please at least check the figures, beacuse I want this to be right; but that is definitely close. Now, Israel the wonderful curators of the Holy Land, has an area 21,000 square kilometres. Is that too much for jewish people, with all their history in the area?
    And the arab people want Eastern Israel as well? mmmmmmmmmmm. That in itself is suspect, nay, even a bit distasteful I’d say. Peace.

  8. Mr Bill says:

    Whats really sad is that the song is absolutely true. And even sadder is that you do not seem to understand that. The fact that Dylan obviously feels uncomfortable even talking about the song says volumes about how intolerant the Israel and Jew haters are. No doubt if he believed that dialogue was even possible with such people – he probably would bother talking about the intended meaning in the song.

    Btw I have very little regard for your arguments. They seem typical of those who embrace lefty British bigoted views of Jews generally – using Israel to vent their dislike. And yes I know you happen to like Bob Dylan (so I guess you must just love Jews in general- and yes I am being ironic here)….

  9. frank says:

    Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people. The Zionists never made any secret of their intention to create a Jewish homeland and that the Arab citizens of same would be equals.From the first this was violently rejected by the Arabs.Their solution was to declare the the Jews should be driven out completely from Palestine and they have not not varied from this since.
    What then does Israel owe to those who want to exterminate them? Nothing. They have tried to destroy Israel over and over and each time they lose more and more. Then they complain that they should be given back what they lost. Morality? It is immoral to give someone who is trying to destroy you back what they lost in the attempt to do so in the same way that suicide is immoral.
    The entire Arab world doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist and we are immoral for holding onto the West Bank?
    But the real problem is religious. Both the Muslim and Christian world are the negation of Judaism.A nascent Israel is perceived as their negation. In addition the real religion of today’s world is equality and the idea of a Chosen People outrages both the religious and the secular atheist saints of the left. So they claim that Israel is apartheid and racist. Meanwhile they unconsciously know that all their morality comes from the Jews. Dylan was right.The neighborhood bully is standing on the hill running out the clock. It’s the end of days and he’s still here unbowed by the world that wishes he didn’t exist.

  10. Amy Francis says:

    Resolution 242 did not call for withdrawal from “all territories” but from “territories”, a wording deliberately chosen to mean “some but not necessarily all”. Israel withdrew from the great bulk of the territories, measured by area, a long time ago.

  11. TonyAttwood says:

    To be clear, this is what the UN web site says about resolution 242.

    Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security,

    Emphasizing further that all Member States in their acceptance of the Charter of the United Nations have undertaken a commitment to act in accordance with Article 2 of the Charter,

    1. Affirms that the fulfilment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles:

    (i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;

  12. Trent says:

    This is perhaps the only Dylan song I hate. It’s horribly Zionist, heavy handed and propagates all the old Zionist “underdog” myths.

    Also, many documents now contest the notion that the Six Day War was defensible as pre-emptive strike on Israel’s part; Egypt had no intention of attacking.

  13. Jamal of India says:

    My respect for Dylan fell with this song. I always thought of him as a liberal protest singer with a strong sense of right and wrong. This song screws all that.
    With this I can never hear his songs in the same way again, knowing that a bigot was behind them.

    Maybe he was disillusioned then – now that Israel’s guilt is obvious to even Americans watching TV channels run by Israel-backed magnates, I really hope his views have changed to resemble those of Roger Waters, another liberal protest musician.

  14. cb says:

    I believe it to be truth that the real cause of the middle east turmoil is not be Israel is believed to be ‘on their land.’ Instead, it is because the arab people are on Israel’s land.

    I love the song, Neighborhood Bully. Bob’s people are outnumbered by about 20,000 to 1 and yet are considered to be the neighborhood bully? The problem with common sense is that it is very uncommon.

    Let those with ears hear.

  15. James says:

    This is why I hate Dylan fans. They praise him for one thing, thinking he’s crusading for them and then call him a prophet or a voice of the generation. Yet, when he expresses views that runs counter to their beliefs, they eschew him. They claim that he ‘sold out’ when in reality, he never got a chance to express himself.

    No wonder he hates all his ass kissing fans. You guys see the world in black and white and never grow up.

    Bob Dylan is a complicated individual. To simply assert and project your own views onto him shows how moronic and misunderstood you are regarding him. He has his beliefs and biases, just like anyone else. Unlike his fans, he understands that. And that’s what makes him great. Whereas his fans, a bunch of creepy cult-like worshipers.

  16. Laura Woodswalker says:

    This is the first time I felt good about something on the internet in about 20 years of irrational, nonstop hate. I didn’t like Dylan before…now I think he’s awesome!!

  17. cb says:

    Interesting, except I agree, completely with the lyrics.
    The presence of the hebrew people in the ‘land of Israel’ is an historical, archeological, and Biblical fact. The dispute over the land will always be an issue.
    ‘He’s got no allies to really speak of’ could never have been more true as ‘no one sends flesh and blood to fight by his side,’ do they. Our government only supports Israel as they are persuaded by AIPAC not by any Biblical and or moral conviction.
    At the very least one must consider the recent history and ask why the 3,200,000,000 enemies have been unable to remove those pesky 7,000,000 hebrews.
    For those of the ‘household of faith’ must look harder into the Biblical text and consider that the REAL problem is NOT that Israel is ‘on their land’ but rather that the enemies of Israel are on HER LAND.
    Like it or leave it, there is nothing you can do about it.
    It is a great song. Go Bobby!

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