American folk icon Pete Seeger — taken from us at the age of 94 — was a man of enormous intellectual coherence.
We recall Seeger speaking out brilliantly in the 1940s in support of socialist-populist principles; against segregation in the US South in the fifties and sixties; against the Vietnam War in the sixties and seventies. Until his death last night, Pete Seeger was a champion of civil and political rights, free speech, and peace-oriented education.
Seeger had things to say about Israel/Palestine as well.
I pulled these comments of his off of a double-vinyl set entitled Pete Seeger Sings and Answers Questions at the Ford Hall Forum, Boston, Massachussetts (Broadside BRS 502). The session was held on November 12, 1967 — five months after Israel’s Six-Day War.
Imagine the time … Many, many American liberals felt enormous sympathy for the doughty little Jewish State, having fended off imminent attack from ferocious neighbors — and then some; joyously reclaiming their sacred Western Wall, and all the rest of it.
In this passage, a lady in the audience (no doubt filled with liberal Jews, whatever it meant to be a “liberal” Jew back then) asks a question that can barely be heard. The query is repeated by Forum president Reuben Lurie: What did Seeger have in mind when he said those things he’d recently said?
No idea what comments of Seeger’s the lady in the audience is referring to, or the current events that lead Seeger to offer up an opinion (perhaps someone can dig up Pete’s old comments from the archives). Seeger responded calmly and thoughtfully:
“I said if the Israelis would admit the injustice that was committed when they decided that they would start a new nation where a million people already lived. Uhh … Vermont is approximately the size of Israel, minus the Negev desert. Vermont has 400,000 people in it. There were one million farmers and small townsmen in Palestine at the time the Zionists decided that this was where they must establish a national home …”
Seeger diverts his thoughts for a second:
“… Now, in many ways I agree with them that after 2000 years of never being allowed to be a first class citizen, anywhere! Not in Spain, not in France, not in Germany, not in Russia, not in Poland, not in England … not in America! The Jews had a right to wanna find one little spot on this Earth where they could be first class citizens …”
A bit more sympathy to the Jews. Then:
“At the same time, not to realize that there were one million people there, I think was very foolish. Why didn’t they insist that every new settler learn the Arab language? Why didn’t they? Martin Buber said they should, but they didn’t listen to him.”
Listen to Pete Seeger’s comments here.
Editor: Jeff Halper writes at Haaretz about Seeger’s generosity to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and his unwitting endorsement of the Jewish National Fund in 2011 and his subsequent reversal. “Now that I know more, I support the BDS movement as much as I can,” he said then. +972 described that incident here. Thanks to Dorothy Naor.