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Pete Seeger on Palestine (in 1967)

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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.





David Kattenburg

David Kattenburg is a Winnipeg-based radio/web broadcaster and science educator.

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24 Responses

  1. W.Jones on January 28, 2014, 9:12 pm

    “… 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 …”

    Perhaps Seeger also asked himself at some point:
    Might Germany, Russia, England, Poland, America become equal, first-class places for all citizens, rather than making Palestine that place for one group only? Can we raise up second class citizens to make equality, rather than lowering first class citizens down elsewhere to make it?

  2. just on January 28, 2014, 9:17 pm

    RIP to a truly great American and humanitarian and hugely talented folk singer.

    For the Palestinians and all those that yearn to be free and have their lives restored with the dignity and joy that they so deserve:

    • just on January 28, 2014, 9:32 pm

      Thank you for this article, David.

      I love this picture of him! He worked tirelessly for social justice, and smiles so joyfully.

      I know his conscience was as clear as his eyes and his unforgettable voice. I wish his family and friends comfort and peace.

    • bintbiba on January 29, 2014, 6:52 am


      • bintbiba on January 29, 2014, 6:53 am

        Thank you, Just !

  3. Scott on January 28, 2014, 9:18 pm

    An awesomely timely informative post! I was wondering about this. In my stepfather’s and mom’s home, they had Pete Seeger records early on. I didn’t realize at the time it was probably because my stepfather was an old “socialist.” “Little Boxes” and “What did you learn in school today?” may have been the first 45 I ever purchased, in 1962 or 3.

    • philweiss on January 28, 2014, 9:47 pm

      Scott, Seeger’s comments are consistent with Robert Lowell’s comments that you unearthed from after the ’67 war.

      • Obsidian on January 29, 2014, 4:18 pm

        Pete’s words that Adam can’t man up to.

        “And surely, their ancient homeland, which they remembered for two thousand years, and refused to forget for two thousand years (that’s a long, long time!), surely that would be the logical place.”

        Have you two no shame?

      • Woody Tanaka on January 29, 2014, 4:42 pm

        And it would be, if it wasn’t already someone else’s home. But to you zios, those other people have no rights which you need to respect.

        And we know you have no shame.

      • Citizen on January 29, 2014, 8:23 pm

        @ Obsidian, The shame is on you, that you willingly make innocent Palestinians pay for what others did to your people in Europe. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

    • Nevada Ned on January 29, 2014, 12:22 am

      I thought that “Little Boxes” was by Malvina Reynolds ??!!

  4. flyod on January 28, 2014, 10:08 pm

    chatted with him while waiting in line at heathrow. sometime during the w years. insightful guy. was in awe. should rename the hamilton fish newburgh/ beacon bridge over the hudson… heck they should rename the river itself…

  5. Henry Norr on January 28, 2014, 10:31 pm

    Fabulous. Many thanks for that, David.

    I hesitate to promote Amazon, but the truth is I just found that recording listed there, in both CD and MP3 format. I bought the MP3s – $3.96 total for the two records!

  6. annie on January 29, 2014, 1:39 am

    thanks david. and thanks to just, listening now. reminds me of my formative years. he was a big part of the message/psyche or my generation.

    • jon s on January 29, 2014, 4:26 pm

      Pete Seeger’s unmistakable voice was part of my childhood: the folk songs, the protest songs, the anti-war and pro-civil rights and equality message. I remember his records, one of the ones we had was “The Weavers at Carnegie Hall”. He was a true idealist.

  7. eGuard on January 29, 2014, 5:23 am

    David Kattenburg, about ’67: … the Jewish state, having fended off imminent attack from ferocious neighbors

    If that was the opinion in that time, it should have been noted as such. As it is written, it reads like “facts” the “liberals” enjoyed. Nowadays it is corrected into saying that Israel started the ’67 war.

  8. hophmi on January 29, 2014, 10:52 am

    A great folk singer has died; let’s exploit his memory for political purposes.

    Anyway, I’m sure Pete Seeger’s words about Jews have no place for 2000 years in which to live as first-class citizens will be ignored by all those here.

    • Citizen on January 29, 2014, 12:23 pm

      @ hophmi
      You speak as if non-Jews all had first class civil rights equal to all others for 2000 years. In what country was that? How many peasant uprising were there in Europe over that period?

  9. eljay on January 29, 2014, 11:18 am

    >> Anyway, I’m sure Pete Seeger’s words about Jews have no place for 2000 years in which to live as first-class citizens will be ignored by all those here.

    Seeger was right to say that Jews – like all other minorities in all countries around the world – should by right be living as “first class citizens” (by which I assume he means they should be living as equals) in their respective homelands.

    Seeger was wrong to say that Jews were or are entitled to a country of their own, given that a “Jewish State” is, fundamentally, a supremacist construct.

    Seeger was right not to say that Jews were or are entitled to commit terrorism or ethnic cleansing or land theft or colonialism or expansionism or destruction or oppression or torture or murder.

  10. Citizen on January 29, 2014, 12:26 pm

    This man’s songs and record of consistent humane courage is now embedded in America’s cultural dna. A very smart and very talented man, Pete Seeger. R.I.P. You deserve it if anybody does.

  11. German Lefty on January 29, 2014, 2:42 pm

    I just want to mention that we sometimes sang “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” (in English and German) as well as “We Shall Overcome” in music class at school. Great songs.

    • Citizen on January 29, 2014, 8:25 pm

      Hi German Lefty
      You’re a good and smart woman. Keep it up over there!

  12. kalithea on January 29, 2014, 6:49 pm

    Jews have first class rights in the U.S., Canada, France, Britain, Germany, Israel, and on and on for the past 60+ years, while Palestinians have NO RIGHTS AT ALL for the same length of time!

    The Hopmis, Olegs and Obsidians are here to repeatedly shove the past and some kind of contrived guilt down our throats and thus rob the Palestinians of the support and compassion they deserve for the staggering injustice they’ve suffered and are suffering at the hands of Zionists for D E C A D E S. These individuals never display an iota of compassion for Palestinians. Ask yourselves – what are they really doing here anyway, if not to manipulate the discussion towards the Zionist agenda?

    The past that Zionists keep holding over everyone’s heads like a sword is what keeps Palestinians in a prison of injustice. They already get away with this strategy in every venue. It’s wrong and it’s time to stop them. Are you going to allow them to continuously sabotage with this obvious manipulation the compassion and attention Palestinians deserve? It’s time to stop Zionists from resurrecting the past to justify crimes committed against Palestinians. We need to take back the narrative.

    I don’t give a rat’s ass about the past when those people have been compensated in so many ways and other people are suffering in the present and their rights are being overlooked by the entire world because of a monumental deception (i.e. that Jews are still the victims) that is allowed to monopolize the discussion everywhere!

    I understand there are certain guidelines on this site, well let me make a suggestion for another: Anyone who uses the Holocaust or Jewish victimhood to steer a discussion away from the urgent issue of rights and justice for the victims of Zionism, i.e. the Palestinians, should be BANNED. It’s time to stop this blatant manipulation. If such individuals have no compassion whatsoever and are here SOLELY to sabotage whatever awareness regarding the suffering of Palestinians this site can awaken in others – then why are they still here?

    I can’t feel one iota of sympathy for people who continue to use the past to hurt others who are innocent of what happened in that past! There is no manipulation as evil as punishing and robbing people who had nothing to do with what happened in the past of their rights for decades and using that past repeatedly as a justification and cover for crimes against humanity.

    Start a trend–BOYCOTT THE ZIONIST VICTIM CARD and take back the narrative.

  13. Citizen on February 1, 2014, 9:52 am

    @ kaleitha

    The resident hasbara bots on MW often reveal the usual Hasbara 101 Playbook. Informed commentors here always counter this with facts. While the cost of this is significant as you suggest, newbies coming to MW are often looking for alternate avenues to the boilerplate justification for the daily suffering of the Palestinian people which is found in the US mainstream media. The hasbara bots’ comments here provide a chance for the informed commentors here to demolish the usual lies for those fairly new to the debate–for example, if Scarjo had come here she would have become more enlightened and the usual mote (“It’s complex!) might have changed her decision because MW actually provides a real debate.

    Hasbara in 1988–despite difficulties South Africa is a vital progressive state with much to admire: a brief introduction to the themes employed by South Africa in defense of its apartheid regime.

    Met some key US conservatives who campaigned for apartheid South Africa’s anti-BDS agenda:

    How the apartheid South African regime’s propaganda was countered:

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