The Pete Seeger I Knew Did Not Support Blind Boycotts

Seeger believed that people in conflict must learn to talk. Boycotting the Arava Institute would not help that aim.

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In October 2010, I met with Mr. Pete Seeger at his home. He had been asked by the Arava Institute (AIES) to appear in a virtual rally to support the Institute. After having agreed to participate in the event, Mr. Seeger began to have doubts due to concerns regarding the relationship between the Institute and the Jewish National Fund.

I explained that JNF donor advised funds constituted 15% of our funding then, along with funding from the US government, the Israeli government, the European Union, foundations, Jewish Federations, Friends of the Arava Institute, the New Israel Fund, and private donors. In our view, acceptance of funding does not constitute an endorsement of that organization’s policies or actions. (I don’t believe that acceptance of a USAID grant constituted support for the US’s war in Iraq).

I explained that AIES brings Jews and Arabs together to create dialogue around issues of sustainability in the region. Mr. Seeger responded that, though he could understand an economic boycott, he could not understand boycotting a place that promotes dialogue; saying: “The world will not be here in 50 years unless we learn how to communicate with each other nonviolently.”

Mr. Seeger believed that people in conflict must learn to dialogue. The JNF, along with other funders, has enabled the Institute to bring Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians and internationals together to teach that Nature Knows No Borders and create life-long friendships across borders. I am not sure how attacking an organization like the Arava Institute, which is dedicated to peace and sustainability in the Middle East, furthers Mr. Halper’s political agenda. I am sure, however, that we should put away our political disagreements to honor a great man who stood for justice, freedom and “the love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land”.

David Lehrer is the Executive Director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies.

Activist and musician Pete Seeger marches at an Occupy Wall St. event. October 21, 2011.Credit: AP

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