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Ron Radosh

With the recent announcement by Pete Seeger that he joined and endorsed the BDS movement to delegitimize Israel (Boycott, Disinvest and Sanctions), Seeger has finally jeopardized any claim he might have had to be known as a supporter of reconciliation, tolerance, justice and peace.

Not only has Seeger joined the BDS movement, he has withdrawn his support from his previous participation in the Arava Institute’s “Virtual Rally for a Better Middle East,”  which took place last November, and which I criticized here. That movement was flawed in that it was predicated on moral equivalence between Israel and its enemies, although it sought to work for “cross-border cooperation” and peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

Seeger has disavowed his earlier connection with the Arava Institute because he learned of its cooperation with the Jewish National Fund (JNF), an Israeli mainstream organization in existence during the days of the Yishuv, before Israel was even created.  An important JNF  mission was to plant trees in Palestine (one of the reasons Israel looks so different from much of the barren Middle East).  When  Seeger learned that the JNF was funding the planting of trees in the Israeli desert he considered it enough of a reason to withdraw his support from the Arava Institute. He now says: “I misunderstood the leaders of the Arava Institute because I didn’t realize to what degree the Jewish National Fund was supporting Arava. Now that I know more, I support the BDS movement as much as I can.”

As one of Seeger’s supporters explained, “Arava’s online event obfuscated basic facts about Israel’s occupation and systematic seizure of land and water from Palestinians. Arava’s partner and funder, the JNF, is notorious for planting forests to hide Palestinian villages demolished by Israel in order to seize their land. Arava was revealed as a sterling practitioner of Israeli government efforts to ‘Rebrand Israel’ through greenwashing and the arts.”

As writer Hannah Sternberg points out, a press release from the ICAHD  on Seeger’s turn-around shows that he believes  “that JNF has been involved in ‘dispossessing’ Palestinians since 1901…meaning he considers the perfectly legal and voluntary sale of land to Zionist Jews by the resident peoples of the area in the early twentieth century to be just as much an ‘occupation’ as the military occupation of hostile areas following the Six-Day War, the latter of which is what BDS purports to object to, to avoid criticism that they’re merely hateful of Jews.”  She correctly adds: “What Seeger’s making clear here is that he objects to Israel’s very right to exist, aside from the complex international legal ambiguities surrounding the occupied territories, Gaza and the West Bank. According to Seeger’s logic, any Jew in Israel is an occupier, whether he’s building a new home on the West Bank or whether he lives on a communal farm that was purchased inarguably lawfully from a Palestinian a hundred years ago.”

Seeger explains that he did not reach this decision, according to ICAHD coordinator Jeff Halper, before carefully considering the issue. Halper notes that “Pete did extensive research on this. He read historical and current material and spoke to neighbors, friends, and three rabbis before making his decision to support the boycott movement against Israel.” In other words, Seeger spoke to his leftist friends and neighbors, and all of three rabbis!  We all know there are plenty of self-proclaimed rabbis, some of them real, who despise Israel. I somehow doubt Seeger searched around to find some who had a different view than those he spoke to. One call to the American Jewish Committee could have provided him with more than a few.

I have written about Seeger so many times that I cannot provide the links to send you to all of them. If you are interested, you’ll have to do a Google or Bing search on your own. The last major controversy that got into the press, and about which I had both letter and phone call exchanges with Seeger, concerned his many years of Stalinism, which I argued he had never publicly come to terms with. I wrote a few articles on this for The New York Sun, when its print edition still was being published. They can be found here, and here.

In the latter piece, I revealed that Seeger had written a new song, “The Big Joe Blues,” the lyrics of which condemned Joseph Stalin, whose regime he had for decades been a major supporter of. I wrote that “I was deeply moved that Mr. Seeger, now in his late 80s, had decided to acknowledge what had been his major blind spot — opposing social injustice in America while supporting the most tyrannical of regimes abroad.”  Well, I thought — I disagree with him about many things, but at least he eventually admitted the truth about Stalinism.  I wrote that “I honor and admire him for doing so now.”

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