In Pursuing Bob Dylan for Hate Speech, Croatian Group Denies Holocaust

Controversy Over Odd Interview Sheds Light on Old Atrocities

Where Men Bathe in Perfume and Celebrate Free Speech: Bob Dylan, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year, is being investigated for engaging in hate speech.
Getty Images
Where Men Bathe in Perfume and Celebrate Free Speech: Bob Dylan, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year, is being investigated for engaging in hate speech.

By Jay Michaelson

Published December 05, 2013, issue of December 13, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Bob Dylan uttered hate speech?! Not so fast. In fact, it’s his accusers are engaged in hate speech: specifically, denying the Holocaust.

The blogosphere was abuzz with the news Tuesday that Dylan was being investigated by French authorities for comments he’d made in a Rolling Stone magazine interview, published in English in September, 2012, and in French a month later. Those remarks are alleged to have insulted Croatians. But a close look at what Dylan actually said should clear him of all charges, even under the notoriously draconian French laws, and in fact, implicates his accusers.

Here’s what Dylan said, in context:

“The United States burned and destroyed itself for the sake of slavery. The USA wouldn’t give it up. It had to be grinded out. The whole system had to be ripped out with force. A lot of killing. What, like, 500,000 people? A lot of destruction to end slavery. And that’s what it really was all about. This country is just too f–ked up about color. It’s a distraction. People at each other’s throats just because they are of a different color. It’s the height of insanity, and it will hold any nation back – or any neighborhood back. Or any anything back. Blacks know that some whites didn’t want to give up slavery – that if they had their way, they would still be under the yoke, and they can’t pretend they don’t know that. If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood.”

Actually, perhaps a little more context is relevant. The Rolling Stone interview in question is an exceedingly weird conversation, even by Bob Dylan standards. Though the interviewer doesn’t say so, it seems like Dylan must have been under the influence of some substance or other – he rambles, goes on wacky digressions, and, several times, refers to his “transfiguration,” which may or may not be a quasi-messianic reincarnation, but which seems to have something to do with his near-fatal 1966 motorcycle crash. It’s a weird read, and the above excerpt is typical.

So, let’s parse out what Dylan was actually talking about: the legacy of slavery in America, and how it lingers on, particularly in the South. Dylan frames it in a peculiar, somewhat mystical way: that African Americans can “sense” if a white person has “slave master or Klan in your blood.” That is part of the weirdness of the interview. But his point is clear enough: that the legacy of slavery lives on, and leaves its traces today. (I made the same point myself, in a recent editorial in these pages, about how some Southerners are unrepentant about slavery and its legacy.)


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.