It’s common for Friday papers in Israel (which are analogous to Sunday papers in much the rest of the world) to fill their pages with magazine stories about culture. It’s not so often, though, that matters of culture – of lack of culture – also make up the weekend papers’ news section.
A Nobel Prize for Bob Dylan, a UNESCO decision essentially ignoring Jewish ties to its holiest site and Donald Trump’s alleged embrace of rape culture, though, show the ‘times they are a-changin’, as all three stories give the papers and their reporters and pundits more than enough to talk about.
It’s hard to find anyone who isn’t a fan of Dylan, if not his voice then at least his music and lyrics, and papers are full of praise for the Bard, with all sorts of takes on him and the prize.
“Big Dylan,” Yedioth Ahronoth calls him in its headline, adding in that he’s “the hoarse voice of a generation.”
Even Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel can’t help but join in on the ballads for the win man.
“One can assume the main reason for his winning … lies in the way Dylan redefined the way in which popular songs are written. And in this context we can at the very least divide rock music into before and after Dylan. His influence on everyone who heard him, from the early 1960s, was incredible. It is enough just to see how Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting changed not long after their first meeting with him,” he writes.
As much praise as there is for Dylan, there is questioning of the Swedish Academy’s decision to grant him the prize, and papers tackle that hurricane head on.
Israel Hayom‘s Yoav Kutner writes that “seeing as the prize is given for poetry, who is more deserving than Dylan,” even if he says his poetry really only works as song.
In Haaretz, Ben Shalev notes that Dylan himself has agreed with that assessment that his words are part and parcel of his tunes, and therefore the Nobel Committee’s choice, which Shalev calls “forced,” could lead to people further misconstruing the singer and his songs.
“The sensation of the Nobel is liable to create a certain distortion in the way Dylan is perceived, or to be more precise: to intensify a distortion that already exists,” he writes. “Dylan is often seen as a great writer who is also a singer. In this view, his texts are the main thing, and because he has chosen to sing them himself we should respect his choice and somehow overcome his sandpaper voice in order to hear the message. That is an entirely mistaken attitude towards Dylan. His writing really did open new horizons in popular music, but the letters on the page are only one component of the whole that makes Dylan a great artist.”
Yedioth’s Elad Zeret, praising Dylan and admitting that he does qualify as a poet, still gives voice to the many literary writers who feel “scorned” by the decision. Zeret posits that the panel was trying to correct for criticism after years of picking writers whose names are unfamiliar to most lay readers.
“This year, after some faith was lost in the prize seen as the flagship award for world literature, it seems the committee decided to kill two birds with one stone – to choose an American artist, and do away with the heavy burden of criticism that they are Eurocentric,” he writes. “But they won’t pick one of the knights of American literature. Not someone that is strictly a writer and whose books are sold in book stores. It will be Bob Dylan – the great musician. The voice of a generation. But someone who has not contributed to literature or to the branch suffering and trying to deal with the damage wrought by the passage of time and new technologies.”
Dylan’s connection to Israel, including his song “Neighborhood Bully” written as a defense of the Jewish state, and his various visits to the country and long winding travail with Judaism is also mentioned, though mostly in passing.
Yedioth expounds on Dylan’s time on a kibbutz here, which is apparently a Bernie Sanders-esque mystery tangled up in blue and white.
“There are those who say he volunteered on Kibbutz Hemedia, others remember him on Kibbutz Ein Dror and according to some of the stories, he only came for a brief visit,” the paper writes. “The question remains without an answer.”
Israel Hayom calls his relationship with Israel “complicated,” and that’s without even mentioning his support in the 1970s for extremist rabbi Meir Kahane.
“What began as a denial [of being Jewish] turned into a conversion to Christianity and at one point to Hasidism, and [he] even threw his son a bar mitzvah at the Western Wall,” the paper writes.
Knockin’ on heaven’s door
Strangely, the paper fails to put “Western Wall” in quotes, considering that the UN’s cultural arm decided Thursday that the holiest spot where Jews can pray is actually just an ancillary Muslim holy site called al-Burak.
Lest one think the paper didn’t get the memo, though, the story of the UNESCO decision, and Israel’s furious reaction, is plastered across the tabloid’s front page, along with the headline “The absurdity of UNESCO,” essentially parroting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials on the matter.
As if that weren’t enough, another headline “Our history, their idiocy,” pretty much sets the tone for the paper’s coverage.
“UNESCO has backed the Palestinians’ lies and ‘canceled’ the connection between Jews and the Temple Mount,” the paper cries out in its news story. “This will likely be remembered as the most ridiculous decision ever taken by UNESCO,” it hyperbolically exclaims.
Commentator Haim Shine comes right out and calls the UN body anti-Semitic, though he doesn’t end the ad hominems there.
“This is proof that the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural arm is filled with boors who don’t know history and have a severely limited intelligence,” he writes.
Anger is nearly as palpable in Yedioth, which calls the decision “ a disgrace.”
It doesn’t really take a historian to know why, but just in case, the paper brings in Prof. Jeffrey Woolf who explains that the UNESCO decision has precedent in Roman Emperor Hadrian’s attempt to remove Jews from Jerusalem, foiled by thousands of years of prayer and education that made the city a focal point.
This time around, he prescribes a similar remedy.
“In a world where lies and half-truths are easily spread on the internet, it’s even more important that we fill the gaps ourselves. We should know about our heritage, the heritage of Jerusalem, of the Temple Mount and the Temple, which has been a focal point of identification for Jews around the world.
A hard rain’s a-gonna fall
“Lies and half-truths on the internet” could easily also be the name of a book about the 2016 election, where GOP nominee Trump came under fire Thursday as several women came forward to say they had been sexually assaulted by him.
As expected, the Donald dismissed the allegation as – you guessed it – lies, but the story, which is not so easily done away with, makes the lead of both Yedioth and Haaretz.
Tellingly, the saga is not prominent in Sheldon Adelson-owned Israel Hayom, which instead promises “anything can happen” showing the paper is still holding out hope for its man.
Haaretz, though, says that “Trump is collapsing” in its top headline, following the allegations made by five women. The paper’s Chemi Shalev predicts that not only is Trump going down, but so is the whole GOP, which is bad news for Adelson and his man in the Prime Minister’s Office.
“Jewish Republicans will be deserting the party in droves, leaving Adelson alone among the ruins. And the political Iron Dome that Benjamin Netanyahu has relied on for the past quarter century to support and protect him against leftist, liberal US Democrats could corrode and crumble, leaving him — and Israel, if you are so inclined — alone and vulnerable,” he writes.
“The GOP is in disarray,” Shalev continues. “The Evangelicals are facing what could turn out to be a historic rupture. The Jews are running for their lives. Netanyahu’s Defensive Shield is crumbling. He could be facing a bad situation, with a Democratic President, that could go to worse, with a Democratic Senate, to worst of all, if the Republicans lose the House as well, a development that seemed unthinkable a short while ago. But now? Not so much.”