Pete Seeger: No to Occupation, Yes to Progressive Israel

Pete Seeger: No to Occupation, Yes to Progressive Israel

I was planning to write a piece on Lieberman’s “brilliant” plan to move the towns and villages of Wadi Ara to a Palestinian state, or about “Omar”, the Palestinian Oscar candidate for best foreign film, but then I heard about Pete Seeger’s passing, so the other topics will have to wait.

Somehow I thought Pete would always be with us.  He was a presence in my life for as long as I can remember. As I note in the piece I just posted for the Times of Israel (Remembering Pete Seeger), he probably would have wanted all of us to sing together “Turn, Turn, Turn.” A part of my piece follows:

My memories of Pete begin with The Weavers, the wonderful singing group that he led, together with Lee Hayes, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman, who’s first hit was none other than the Israeli song Tzena, Tzena,Tzena.  
This was not coincidental, since the story of Jewish national liberation was an inspiration for the progressive forces around the world.  . .

My cousin Yochanan from Kibbutz Hatzor tells me how Pete came to the cheder ochel (dining room) of the kibbutz to play for the members in the late 50s/early 60s, particularly impressing the children.  The story behind that performance was that Pete came to visit the editors of the Tel Aviv-based Israeli peace monthly New Outlook, and said he wanted to visit a kibbutz, to see socialism in action.  Since Managing Editor Shmuel Be’eri, who had been an American sailor on the Exodus ship in 1947, was a member of Kibbutz Hatzor, the rest was easy.

When Pete came to perform at Heichal Hatarbut in Tel Aviv in May, 1967, I joined the members of my kibbutz, Barkai, many of whom were originally North Americans, who climbed on to the benches of a MANN truck to make their way to the big city, to see the historic, heartwarming and inspiring performance, which was in many ways a sing-a-long hootenanny, with Pete leading the way. 

One month later, after the Israeli victory in the 1967 Six Day War, which relieved Israelis from the sense of threat but also saddled us with the beginnings of the occupation over the Palestinians, Pete declared that he wouldn’t return to Israel again until the occupation ended.   And he kept to his word.  He even contributed a portion of every royalty that he received for the song Turn, Turn, Turn to the struggle against house demolitions of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. 

While he was perceived to be a supporter of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) against Israel, he continued to support progressive Israeli causes, clearly continuing to long for the pioneering image of the State of Israel that inspired him when he was with The Weavers.  

By | 2014-01-28T18:09:00-05:00 January 28th, 2014|Blog|5 Comments


  1. werner cohn January 30, 2014 at 4:50 am - Reply

    He sent money to ICAHD, a little clique that advocates the dismantlement of Israel, apparently to the end of his days.

    I also remember him as an enthusiastic supporter of the Stalin-Hitler alliance.

    All his hateful positions were couched in the deceptive language of leftist sentimentality, so many innocents were mislead.

  2. Neal Gosman February 1, 2014 at 2:54 am - Reply

    Readers: Judge for yourself here:

  3. Hillel Schenker February 2, 2014 at 6:15 pm - Reply

    Yes, Pete Seeger contributed part of the royalties from “Turn, Turn, Turn” to ICAHD, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions,who definitely do not advocate “the dismantlement of Israel.” While I may not agree with all of their positions, they do very valuable work protecting the homes of East Jerusalem Palestinians, and rebuilding those which are demolished by Israeli authorities.

    Support for ICAHD’s activities does not mean that Pete Seeger did not continue to support the right of the State of Israel to exist (without the occupation) throughout his life. There is nothing naive or sentimental about that.

  4. werner cohn February 16, 2014 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    With all respect to Mr. Schenker (whose father I encountered in the old days): ICAHD’s interest in housing dismantlement, to judge by its own website and its own activities, is at best a very small part of its overall program. I have written about this group here:'s_matrix.dw.html
    Now, if either Seeger or ICAHD had a humanitarian interest in housing dismantlement, wouldn’t they also show some concern over the destruction of Jewish homes by Hamas rockets, or, for that matter, over the tremendous human suffering caused by Islamist forces in Syria ? Neither ICAHD nor Pete Seeger are on record on these issues.

  5. werner cohn February 16, 2014 at 6:05 pm - Reply

    I have given a fuller account of my take on Pete Seeger here:

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