Pete Seeger was wrong on Adolf Hitler, wrong on Joseph Stalin (for over 60 years) and — yes! — wrong on Bob Dylan going electric at Newport. Yet, he gets cut a great deal of slack even by those who don’t share his ideology. He mentored a lot of individuals who later grew out of his party-playbook worldview (and you know what party I’m talking about). (Lest I be accused of innuendo: the Communist party.) He is given so much slack, and, in his old age, so many salutes and tributes even from those who have disagreed with him on substantive issues because he is seen to project a deep-seated concern for his fellow-man, even if that has sometimes led him to certain errors; errors along the lines of persistently shilling for a dictator responsible for the deaths of millions. Pete Seeger also has the ability to put over a folk song in a way that many find endearing.
And no doubt Seeger does have nice qualities as a human being, and no doubt he has touched people in ways that are beyond the stilted political agenda to which he himself adheres. Yet, at what point should it become conventional wisdom that — far from being helpful to humanity — Pete Seeger has consistently shown awful judgment and his advocacy for evil has outweighed his advocacy for the genuinely weak and needy?
Recently, as yours truly mentioned in a previous space, Pete Seeger endorsed the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” campaign against Israel. As said then:
Even on the flagship website for the movement, you will have a hard time finding what it is — specifically speaking — that Israel would have to do to satisfy the Boycott/Divestment/Sanction folks. In the end, while it begins with a call for “self-determination” for Palestinians (about which Israel has openly been willing to negotiate for years, but lacking a willing partner) the goals are designed to be amorphous, so that the “movement” can just continue until Israel is completely gone. And so it’s just another iteration of the oldest hatred in the world.
And Pete Seeger proves himself to be the the Energizer Bunny of advocacy for evil: he just keeps going and going.
Ron Radosh, who learned to play the banjo at Pete Seeger’s knee, and was highly instrumental in getting Seeger to finally disown the murderous Joseph Stalin (about three and a half years ago!) has called Seeger to account for his latest gross misjudgment and misplaced advocacy in a detailed post on his Pajama Media blog: Pete Seeger’s Latest Shame — He Proves Again that He Remains a Useful Idiot. I recommend reading it.
The significance of Seeger’s latest public move shouldn’t be underestimated. I imagine it counts as a visceral signal to all manner of old lefties and some younger lefties that it’s “OK” to get on board with this dangerous BS BDS campaign.
But at the age of 92, he doesn’t have much time to rethink this one. It will therefore likely stand as his final shame. We can hope and pray that history doesn’t make it a crowning one.
Addendum 3/26/2011: It needs to be noted that on March 3rd, 2011, the Jewish-oriented news website, JTA.org, published a posting titled Pete Seeger clarifies position on boycotting Israel.
Folk music icon Pete Seeger, quoted earlier this week as saying that he supports a boycott of Israel, told JTA that his position on Israel is constantly evolving.
Earlier this week, the pro-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement group Adalah-NY reported that Seeger met recently with representatives from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and told them that he “supports” the anti-Israel BDS movement.
Seeger told JTA by phone Wednesday that he “probably said” that, but added that he is still learning a lot about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his “opinions waver with each piece of information” he receives.
In response, on March 9th, Adalah-NY — which had issued the original 2/28/2011 press release with Seeger quoted as firmly supporting the “Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment” campaign — updated that statement with this:
Update 3/9/2011: Adalah-NY takes factual accuracy extremely seriously. Following the meeting that representatives of Adalah-NY and ICAHD had with Mr. Seeger, all parties reviewed and agreed to the Adalah-NY/ICAHD February 28th press release and the quotes in it before it was issued.
After our February 28th press release, other callers published statements from Mr. Seeger that could be interpreted as somewhat different from those in our press release, quoting him as saying that his “opinions waver” with new information. We do not consider this to be a retraction of his stated support for BDS. We are happy that increasing numbers of performing artists are studying the colonial situation in Palestine and supporting the Palestinian call to pressure Israel through boycott. We applaud Pete Seeger for his active concern with this issue and are certain his statements will encourage other artists to participate as well.
So it seems to me that this is where the public record stands at the present moment.