The Last Word: Neighbourhood Bullies
Jan 31, 2022 | Jeremy Jones
Throughout its existence, the Sydney Festival has presented a smorgasbord of entertainment, celebrating diverse cultures and the even more diverse ways cultural creativity is expressed.
Some of the performances I have seen have been visually stunning, often bringing internationally-renowned artists to Australia for the first time.
Some have been memorable for the skill in set-construction, in choreography and in the overall quality of the performances.
Be it the weird and wonderful expressions of cutting-edge political theatre, homages to particular cultural epochs, even the Australian debut of a play based on aphorisms or lyrics of great writers, each year Sydney-siders, and many visitors, have much to talk about by the time the event has ended.
This year, media space otherwise available to give acclaim and critique to art has been hijacked by those past-masters of news-cycle hijacking, the organised, maximalist anti-Israel movement.
The verbal gymnastics as anti-Israel extremists tried to argue why their attitude to Israel was not malicious, let alone destructive, was unimpressive. Yet the reality is that there were Australian journalists who allowed offensive ignorance to be spread by not challenging, and often repeating as if “news”, demonisation of Israel.
The political theatre engaged in by the bullies, defamers and slanderers of the self-ascribed BDS movement was unsurprising, given that movement’s track record – but is nevertheless disturbing on a number of levels.
Support of governments for arts is hardly a secret – in fact many countries proudly promote their support for training, development and production of local regional and national performers and programmes. Yet it seems there are some in the BDS movement who think such support is immoral if, and only if, that government is Israel.
Political panic by BDS is not a shock, given the success to this point of the Abraham Accords and the growing, highly visible, evidence that Israel is less diplomatically isolated than ever.
It appeared that some who gave in to BDS had decided on an homage to the great Stephen Sondheim and sent in the clowns – some of the media statements and “explanations” for why certain performers would not participate in the Festival were almost comical in their moral contortions.
In the lead-up to the 2021 Sydney Festival, the flagship performance was “Girl from the North Country”, a musical with songs by Bob Dylan – which brings me to the heart of the BDS movement’s activities relating to the Festival.
Last year, Dylan released Springtime in New York: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 16 (1980-1985) which included “Neighbourhood Bully”, one of Dylan’s most political songs from the past 50 years, originally on 1983’s Infidels album.
“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 he 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.”
The song goes on to talk about the disingenuity of anti-Israel faux pacifists, the way the historical experiences of Jews have morphed in to the national experience of Israel and continually asks nothing more than that the bullying end, in the process noting:
“Every empire that’s enslaved him is gone
Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon”
The real bullies of BDS found some willing dupes and victims in a small percentage of Sydney Festival acts.
It is a pity that even one act would side with the bullies – and that well after their artistic credentials are forgotten, their moral cowardice will be remembered.