Monday, February 28, 2011

Pete Seeger Endorses BDS

Famed lefty folk singer, Pete Seeger - second from the left, with banjo and singing the Hebrew lyrics of this 1951 hit recording of Tzena Tzena - has just come out in favour of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) as a tactic to get Israel to end it occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Its taken him exactly 60 years to move form his avidly pro Israel 1951 stance to this. I am still ambivalent about he BDS campaign, but Pete no longer is.

Below is the ICAHD press release announcing Seeger's new position.


February 28- Folk music legend Pete Seeger has come out in support of the growing Palestinian movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel as a program for justice for Palestinians and a route to peace in the Middle East.
Seeger, 92, participated in last November’s online virtual rally “With Earth and Each Other,” sponsored by the Arava Institute, an Israeli environmental organization, and by the Friends of the Arava Institute. The Arava Institute counts among its close partners and major funders the Jewish National Fund, responsible since 1901 for securing land in Palestine for the use of Jews only while dispossessing Palestinians. Although groups in the worldwide BDS movement had requested he quit the event, Seeger felt that he could make a strong statement for peace and justice during the event.
During a January meeting at his Beacon, NY home with representatives from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and Adalah-NY, Pete Seeger explained, “I appeared on that virtual rally because for many years I’ve felt that people should talk with people they disagree with. But it ended up looking like I supported the Jewish National Fund. 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.”
Jeff Halper, the Coordinator of ICAHD, added, “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.” Seeger has for some time given some of the royalties from his famous Bible-based song from the 1960s, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” to ICAHD for their work in rebuilding demolished homes and exposing Israel’s practice of pushing Palestinians in Israel off their land in favor of development of Jewish villages and cities.
The November virtual rally “With Earth and Each Other” was billed as an apolitical effort to bring Israelis and Palestinians together to work for the environment. Dave Lippman from Adalah-NY noted, “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.”
Currently, the JNF is supporting an Israeli government effort to demolish the Bedouin village of Al-Araqib in order to plant trees from the JNF that were paid for by the international evangelical group GOD-TV. The Friends of the Arava Institute’s new board chair has recently published an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post that only cautiously questions some activities of the JNF, an organization whose very raison-d’etre is to take over land for Jews at the expense of the Palestinian Arab population.
Pete Seeger’s long-time colleague Theodore Bikel, an Israeli-American known for his life-long involvement with Israeli culture, recently supported the Israeli artists who have refused to perform in a new concert hall in Ariel, a large illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
Seeger joins a growing roster of international performers who have declined to whitewash, greenwash, or in any way enable Israel’s colonial project, including Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heron, Roger Waters, Devendra Banhart, and the Pixies.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Is Zionism a Dirty Word?

Rabbi Brian Walt, who helped found Rabbis For Human Rights North America, and who I generally admire, wrote an opinion piece in the latest issue if Tikkun Magazine, on why he no longer calls himself a liberal or progressive Zionist, and rather sees himself as "a religious American Jew in solidarity with justice for the Palestinian people."

Below is a response I wrote to Rabbi Walt. Quibbles perhaps, but if nothing else, it helped to clarify my own thinking on the matter.
Rabbi Brian,

While I agree with most of what you say, one must be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. The Soviet Union was indeed an evil empire, but socialism is still not such a bad idea. How many anti-Communist started out on the left and ended up as leaders of neo-conservatism? Many! And while the fall of the Soviet Union was on balance a good thing, it set the stage for globalization, the resurgence of right-wing capitalism and the set back of the left in most of the world. (Think “New Labour” in Britain or of Bill Clinton or Obama as about the most left America can imagine itself now-a-days. Pale comparisons to FDR, LBJ or even Eisenhower.)

Since you (and I) value “the rebirth of Hebrew culture in Israel and ... still believe Jews desperately need safety after the Holocaust” we must be careful in stating, not just what we oppose – the occupation and chauvinism and racism within Israel proper and within the territories –, we must also say what we support – peace, justice, equality, and a thriving Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael. There used to be a perfectly good word for this set of values: “Cultural Zionism” – and its proponents: Ahad Haam, Martin Buber, Judah Magnes, Hannah Arendt, and even arguable Albert Einstein and Mordechai Kaplan where not without influence and following in the Jewish community.

I believe it would be more accurate, and more likely to attract support in the Jewish (and even non-Jewish) community – to use the label “Cultural Zionist” then the label “religious American Jew in solidarity with justice for the Palestinian people.” Of course the two ideas do not contradict each other, nor, I am sure, do either described you (or anyone else) fully. Its a matter of labels and the impressions and messages they convey.

I do not agree – and I may have misunderstood you here – that “Working in solidarity with Palestinians toward any political settlement — one state, two states, a federation, or any other political arrangement — that ensures the equal human rights of all Israelis and Palestinians should be the SINGULAR goal of our work.” Israel/Palestine is no doubt the biggest moral challenge facing the Jewish people today, but it is not the ONLY challenge, and for me – and I believe for you – it lives along side and within the larger (from a Jewish perspective) issues of revivifying the Jewish People and Judaism and planting them firmly on the side of justice, fully realizing human potential, and spiritual and social progress.

All this may be a small quibble – but then what else is there to say about your article, than "Yshar Koach."