Legendary 91-year-old American folk singer and civil rights pioneer Pete Seeger is still trying to “hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters,” but when it comes to the Middle East conflict, anti-Israeli activists are preferring that he keep his hammer at home.
Seeger is slated to be the featured guest of With Earth and Each Other – A Virtual Rally for a Better Middle East, to be broadcast online on November 14. The event is sponsored by the Friends of the Arava Institute, a US-based non-profit organization with the primary goal of raising support and visibility for the Arava Institute for Environment Studies based at Kibbutz Ketura, about 40 kilometers north of Eilat.
US artists’ support for settlement boycott spreading fast
Editing out the Pixies
Opinion: A little culture, comrades
Founded in 1996, the institute’s mission is to prepare future Arab and Jewish leaders to cooperatively solve the region’s environmental challenges.
Over 600 students, including Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, and others, have participated in the Arava Institute program.
According to the institute’s director, David Lehrer, With Earth and Each Other (WEAEO) wasn’t designed to be a political rally, but “to show the world that there is another side of the conflict in which people across borders are striving to work together for the betterment of all.”
The hour-long show will be hosted by American stage and film actor Mandy Patinkin, who recently signed a letter of support for Israeli actors who announced they refused to perform in Ariel. It will feature performances by Seeger, and other performers including Jethro Tull front man Ian Anderson, who recently donated his proceeds from three Israeli performances to three organizations working toward Israeli- Arab coexistence.
In addition to highlighting various examples of cooperation between the people of the region under the auspices of the institute, the show, featuring both live and pre-recorded performances, will ask viewers around the world to join together at the event’s conclusion to sing “Salaam (Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu),” the well-known song of peace in Hebrew and Arabic.
What could be a more positive, non-political message of coexistence than that, right? Not according to over 40 organizations, led by Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, which published a letter on Sunday calling on Seeger to “join the growing list of artists who have respected the Palestinian boycott call,” referring to cancellations this summer by the likes of Elvis Costello and the Pixies.
The letter cited recent events in the Beduin village of Al- Arakib, where illegal structures have been torn down four times this year by the Israel Police. The letter also focused on the participation of the Jewish National Fund as a partner in the online presentation.
“The JNF, a partner organization in ‘With Earth and Each Other,’ has been engaged in the ‘Judaization’ of Palestine for more than 100 years. After the 1948 expulsion of two thirds of the Palestinian people from their lands, the JNF planted fast-growing non-native trees on the ruins of Palestinian villages in a deliberate attempt to prevent refugees from returning to their land.”
In a separate letter to Seeger, Jeff Halper, chairman of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) wrote: “I hope that you will decide to join these artists of conscience and once again make a bold stand for justice.
The movement is gathering strength, the violators of civilized norms are fearful, and change is in the air.”
Seeger, long sympathetic with Left-wing causes, has been donating some his royalties for the song “Turn, Turn, Turn” to the ICAHD for over ten years.
Halper noted that one of the JNF’s most recent activities has been “the planting of a forest to cover a Beduin village [Al- Arakib] in the Negev from which the residents have been forcibly removed.”
In response, the Friends of the Arava Institute issued a statement saying that the JNF is but one of 30 partner organizations involved in putting on the show. “The Jewish National Fund is not, as it has been described in some letters and articles, ‘the leading partner’ or ‘the sponsor’ of WEAEO,” the statement read.
“It should be noted, however, that the Jewish National Fund, and its donors, have been strong financial supporters of the Arava Institute itself.”
“Significant scholarship funding” that helps enable both Arab and Jewish students to attend the institute, “comes with the aid of the Jewish National Fund,” continued the statement.
“As in its relationship with any other organization, there are, of course, times in which the Arava Institute and the Jewish National Fund disagree with regard to certain policies. However, the Arava Institute is proud of the many positive accomplishments benefiting the entire region it has achieved as a result of this partnership.”
According to the Arava Institute’s director Lehrer, those who are calling for Seeger to boycott the event are shooting themselves in the foot.
“Although I sympathize with some of the criticism that people have about Israeli policies regarding Palestinians and within Israel itself in terms of our Arab citizens, I don’t believe the way to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the way to create a sustainable and peaceful Middle East in which everyone lives together with equal rights and opportunity is by staging a boycott,” he told The Jerusalem Post
“It’s through dialoguing and that’s what the Arava Institute is all
about. That’s what the program we’re running is doing and it’s what With
Earth and Each Other is all about – bringing people together through
dialogue. And you can’t do that if you’re staging a boycott.”
Seeger has not yet responded to the appeals to cancel his participation
in the event, but according to the Friends of the Arava Institute, it’s
“No performer, including Pete Seeger, will be traveling to the Middle
East for the purpose of contributing a performance segment to WEAEO,”
they said in a statement.
Whether Seeger – who has already recorded a spoken invitation to the
event which is posted on the event’s Web site ( h t t p : / / w w w. w i
t h - earthandeachother.org/) – will turn his virtual performance into a
virtual boycott is a virtual even bet.