Letter to Pete Seeger From Over 40 Orgs

September 9, 2010

Dear Pete,

As long-time admirers of your music and your commitment to social justice, and as justice-seeking activists ourselves, we were surprised and troubled to learn that you plan to participate in the event “With Earth and Each Other: A Virtual Rally for a Better Middle East” this November.

As part of the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), and inspired by the cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa, Palestinian people have asked international artists to join the BDS movement by refusing to perform in Israel or participate in events that serve to equate the occupier and the occupied and thus promote the continuation of injustice. Participation in “With Earth and Each Other” undermines the call for BDS until Israel meets the basic requirements of human rights and international law by ending its occupation, ensuring equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and respecting the rights of Palestinian refugees.

“With Earth and Each Other” is a “peace” event. But as you know so well, peace without justice is not peace at all. The event will benefit the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in the Negev or Naqab desert. But elsewhere in the Negev, Palestinian Bedouin communities are being displaced daily. The Arava Institute has said nothing this summer as the unrecognized village of Al-Araqib has been destroyed – and re-built by residents – four times in order to make way for a Jewish National Fund (JNF) park. This destruction and blatant disregard of human communities in the name of the environment is nothing new. 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. The JNF continues to plant trees in Al-Araqib village and throughout the Negev and the Galilee, working with the Israeli government to displace Palestinian people – who have Israeli citizenship but are not treated equally to Jewish citizens of the state – and steal their land on an ongoing basis. Today, the JNF directly controls 13% of the land in Israel and effectively controls more than 93% of the land, renting and leasing only to Jewish citizens of the state in violation of the rights of the Palestinian minority. Clearly, this is not an organization to partner with in a “peace” event.

“With Earth and Each Other” claims that the event’s “purpose is not to take a side [or] say who is right or wrong.” This implies that participation in the event is a neutral act, promoting “peace” while devoid of any political message. However, as the late Howard Zinn famously said, you can’t be neutral on a moving train. By joining this event, you would be inadvertently supporting the “Brand Israel” campaign, which has been launched by the Israeli government and promoted by institutions throughout the country in order to whitewash Israel’s violations of international law and project a false image of normalcy. Any statement that you wish to make by participating in this event would be overshadowed by the fact that you are crossing an international picket line established by the vast majority of civil society organizations in Palestine. In fact, a message of a just peace would reach far more people, including Israelis, if you were to cancel your appearance.

Since Israel’s war against Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, which left 1,400 Palestinians dead and led The Goldstone Report to declare that Israel had committed war crimes, many international artists have refused to conduct business as usual with a country that places itself above international standards. After Israel’s shocking attack on a humanitarian aid ship bound for Gaza this past May, the number of artists has grown. Elvis Costello, Gil Scott Heron, Carlos Santana, Roger Waters, Devendra Banhart, and the Pixies are but a few of the artists who have refused to perform in Israel in the past year.

We ask you to join the growing list of artists who have respected the Palestinian boycott call. You have already demonstrated a commitment to justice in the region by supporting the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), an organization that rejects the notion of “not taking sides” and takes an explicit political stand against Israel’s demolition of Palestinian houses. Notably, ICAHD is one of a growing number of progressive Israeli organizations to have signed onto the Palestinian call for BDS.

Over the past several decades, from the US Civil Rights movement to anti-war movements throughout the world, you have shown the courage to stand on the side of justice. You understand that when our governments fail to hold each other accountable for gross violations of human rights, we as people have the responsibility to do so. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said that “[i]f apartheid [in South Africa] ended, so can this occupation, but the moral force and international pressure will have to be just as determined.” The Palestinian BDS call reaches out from civil society in Palestine to civil society throughout the world, including in Israel, to join this freedom movement. We trust that you will not take this responsibility lightly.

We would be more than happy to discuss this further with you, and to support you in spreading your message to the largest number of people possible, whether through video or another medium. We are simply asking that you to do this in a way that does not undermine the growing global Palestinian-led BDS movement. We invite you to join this struggle for justice and cancel your participation in “With Earth and Each Other” this November.

We look forward to hearing from you.

With great respect,

Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel
Americans Against Apartheid UK
Arab Cultural Forum
Arab Jewish Partnership for Peace and Justice in the Middle East
Artists Against Apartheid UK
Association of Al-Quds Bank for Culture and Information
BDS Platform in the Netherlands
Birthright Unplugged
Boston BDS
BOYCOTT! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within (Israel)
British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP)
Cafe Intifada
Canadian Arab Federation
Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA), Toronto
Davis Committee for Palestinian Rights
Don’t Buy Into Apartheid
Don’t Play Apartheid Israel (DPAI)
Educators for Peace and Justice (Toronto)
Fredericton Palestine Solidarity (New Brunswick)
Independent Jewish Voices (Canada)
International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN)
International Solidarity Movement (ISM)
Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-BIG)
Jews Say No!
Los Angeles Palestine Labor Solidarity Committee
Not in Our Name: Jews Opposing Zionism
One Democratic State Group
Palestine Solidarity Committee-Seattle
Palestine Solidarity Group-Chicago
Palestinian Students Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (Gaza)
Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA), Toronto
Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism (QUIT)
Sheffield Palestine Solidarity Campaign (UK)
Students Against Israeli Apartheid Carleton
Tadamon! Montreal
University Teachers' Association in Palestine
US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
WESPAC Foundation
Women in Solidarity with Palestine (WSP), Toronto
Women of a Certain Age