Folk music icon Pete Seeger has been urged by over 40 organizations, along with musicians close to him, to cancel his participation in a November internet event organized by the Israeli groups the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and others.The organizations called on Seeger to support the Palestinian-led movement for a cultural boycott of Israel, modeled on the artists’ boycott that helped end Apartheid in South Africa.
The event, “With Earth and Each Other: A Virtual Rally for a Better Middle East,” is presented as a support effort for Arava, which claims to carry out environmental projects in the Negev desert in Israel. Arava has said and done nothing about the destruction – four times – of the Bedouin village Al-Araqib in the Negev by Israeli forces this summer to make way for a forest to be planted by the Jewish National Fund.
The destruction of Al-Araqib is part of a larger Israeli government strategy of dislocating Palestinian Bedouin citizens of Israel, to facilitate the expansion of communities for Israeli Jews.
The Jewish National Fund (JNF), a major partner in the event, promotes Jewish land ownership and settlement on land from which Palestinians have been displaced, according to reports by human rights groups like Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and Human Rights Watch.
In a letter made public today, Adalah-NY and over 40 other organizations called on Pete Seeger to “join the growing list of artists who have respected the Palestinian boycott call.” In another public letter to Seeger, Israeli activist Jeff Halper, chair of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), an organization to which Seeger has been a donor for over ten years, 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.”
The letter from Adalah-NY and other groups pointed out that “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.”
Jeff Halper’s letter noted that one of the JNF’s most recent activities has been “the planting of a forest to cover a Bedouin village in the Negev from which the residents have been forcibly removed.” He added that “Efforts to paint Israel as environmentally concerned are mere greenwashing. Israel has repeatedly torn down Palestinian neighborhoods by declaring them green zones.”
Artists Against Apartheid, a New York-based group, also sent Seeger a letter condemning the upcoming program as one that will “directly undermine the work of human rights campaigns, which call for international artists to help end the normalization of Israeli apartheid through a cultural boycott campaign.”
In the last year, artists including Elvis Costello, Carlos Santana, the Pixies, and Gil Scott-Heron have cancelled planned performances in Israel. Israeli performers have been met with demonstrations and cancellations in trips abroad. In the last month, Israeli actors have refused to perform in settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and have been supported by American actors.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), in a call for increased international solidarity, appealed to all artists “not to cross our boycott picket line, which is the simplest, most effective, non-violent form of solidarity with the Palestinian people in its struggle for justice and lasting peace.”