Ron Radosh

Pete Seeger's Latest Shame—He Proves Again that he Remains a Useful Idiot

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Not only has Seeger joined the BDS movement, he has withdrawn his support from his previous participation in the Arava Institute’s “Virtual Rally for a Better Middle East,”  which took place last November, and which I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.”

Comments appeared everywhere. The humorist and writer Mark Steyn, like many others on the conservative side, thought I let him off the hook too easily. He wrote that “The Washington Post’s Style section, with its usual sly elan, hailed him as America’s ‘best-loved Commie’ — which I think translates as ‘Okay, so the genial old coot spent a lifetime shilling for totalitarian murderers, but only uptight Republican squares would be boorish enough to dwell on it.’”  Steyn continues:

Still, Ron Radosh was thrilled that, just 54 years after the old brute’s death, a mere three-quarters of a century after the purges and show trials…the old protest singer had finally got around to protesting Stalin, albeit somewhat evasively…But given that the guy got the two great conflicts of the 20th century wrong [fascism and communism] …it’s a start. I can’t wait for his anti-Osama album circa 2078.

Later in his essay, he writes:

Mr Seeger has a song called “Treblinka”, because he thinks it’s important that we should “never forget”. But wouldn’t it be better if we were hip to it before it snowballed into one of those things we had to remember not to forget? Would it kill the icons of the left just for once to be on the right side at the time? America has no “best-loved Nazi” or “best-loved Fascist” or even “best-loved Republican”, but its best-loved Stalinist stooge is hailed in his dotage as a secular saint who’s spent his life “singing for peace”. He sang for “peace” when he opposed the fascistic armaments stooge Roosevelt and imperialist Britain, and he sang for “peace” when he attacked the Cold War paranoiac Truman, and he kept on singing for “peace” no matter how many millions died and millions more had to live in bondage, and, while that may seem agreeably peaceful when you’re singing “If I Had A Hammer” in Ann Arbor, it’s not if you’re on the sharp end of the deal thousands of miles away.

Showing that in fact he has learned very little, Seeger now turns his public scorn on Israel alone, the country he once celebrated in his hit record with The Weavers, “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena,” and his song about the Kibbutzim  in Israel, “Hey Daroma.” [“Who’ll bring bread and water/Food for Your Sons and Daughters/Life and youth is what we bring”] Of course, these were written when the Soviet Union stood with the U.S. in favor of the partition resolution at the UN in November of 1947, and in Israel’s first years, when Seeger thought of it as a labor-led country that could move quickly to the kind of socialism he liked, like the regimes in Stalinist Eastern Europe.

Now he stands firmly with the BDS movement, and gives royalties from “Turn, Turn, Turn” to the anti-Israeli cause, something you should remember next time you hear it played on the radio. (I wonder how Roger McGuinn feels about this, since his version with The Byrds made it popular.)  Have no mistake about what BDS is for. It says nothing when Hamas lobs rockets on Israel; when suicide bombers ply their trade in Jerusalem, as happened yesterday. It offers no criticism; calling only for sanctions against and boycotts of Israel. I have not heard Seeger protest about the brutal and vicious killing of the Fogel family last week, a brutal murder by Palestinian terrorists celebrated by Hamas with the handing out of candy to the Gaza populace.

The BDS movement stands for the destruction of Israel, not an end to the “occupation,” as it claims. Indeed, many of its leaders oppose a two-state solution, which most people in Israel favor. Their view of occupation is to free all of Israel for a new Palestinian state, and to them, all of Israel is a settlement, not just some of the disputed territory over the Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank.

BDS favors, as does Seeger, no cultural exchanges between Israeli and Palestinian artists, or Israeli and Palestinian universities, and it calls peace talks “collaborationist.” As Omar Barghouti, a BDS leader, said recently: “If the occupation ends,…would that end support for BDS? No it wouldn’t-no.” And it supports the phony “right of return” for all Palestinians supposedly ousted from Israel during the 1948 war of independence. Even President Obama said that “The ‘right of return’ would extinguish Israel as a Jewish state, and that is not an option.”

Whether Obama believes that is another matter, but it is on the record. So this is the movement to which Pete Seeger, now 91 years old, has hitched his wagon.

Seeger is a man of the Left, and he perhaps believes that as a good leftist, he too must hope for Israel’s destruction.  I suggest he read the comments made by the Spanish leftist writer and former parliamentarian Pilar Rahola on June of 2010, who writes, that although she is not Jewish, and “Ideologically I am Left,” she understands that “I have the historical responsibility to fight against Jewish hatred and currently against the hatred for their historical homeland, Israel. To fight against anti-Semitism is not the duty of the Jews, it is the duty of the non-Jews.” She concludes: “I have a triple moral duty with Israel, because if Israel is destroyed, liberty, modernity and culture will be destroyed too. The struggle of Israel…is the struggle of the world.”

Instead, Seeger joins the likes of Elvis Costello, Tom Morello, The Pixies, Gil Scott-Heron, Carlos Santana, and most recently, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. All these singers have made clear their hatred of Israel, and have not said one word about the murder of Israelis in recent days.

Fortunately, Bob Geldof so far is standing firm in his decision to go to Israel to accept an honorary award from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Elton John has performed in Israel, as have Leonard Cohen and others. Just a day ago, Gene Simmons of Kiss did not mince words when he called artists who boycott Israel “idiots.” Born Chaim Witz in Israel, Simmons told the Israeli press  that “The countries they should be boycotting are the same countries that the populations are rebelling…People long to be free … And they sure as hell don’t want somebody who’s a ruler who hasn’t been elected by them.”

If Seeger thinks Geldof and Simmons are artists he knows little about and is not familiar with their music, he might take the measure of one singer he knows very well and who has not made any political statement, but who has spoken through his action. In a busy non-stop European tour in June, Bob Dylan has added one stop to sing in Tel Aviv on June 20th, squeezing it in between London and Milan. Some years ago Dylan wrote a song that could have been written today,  “Neighborhood Bully.” Please, go to the link and read the powerful lyrics. And mail them to Pete Seeger, who regularly says how much he loves Dylan. Maybe at 91, he’ll learn something.

Pete Seeger took fifty years to openly condemn Stalin — he was fifty years too late. He may not be a fan of Stalin any more, but he still supports the enemies of the West and the United States, those who are this new century’s totalitarians and monsters. Pete won’t be around in fifty years, so we cannot wait for him to learn. He should rethink the forces of hatred that he has opted to join and endorse. At least, now that he has shown where he stands, one must hope our country see no more honors bestowed upon a man who sadly remains a useful idiot.