This is entry number 5495!

Muppets Bringing Peace to the Middle East
TEL AVIV, Israel (Hollywood Reporter) – Where countless politicians and diplomats have failed, Elmo, Cookie Monster and their “Sesame Street” buddies are on a mission to promote peace and tolerance in the Middle East.
A programing experiment using the Muppet characters was launched six months ago and was widely welcomed by parents, educators and the media. But the Muppets are not without their critics in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.
Sesame Workshop partnered with local producers to create “Sesame Stories,” an adventurous initiative to use new and existing “Sesame Street” characters to foster respect and understanding among children in the region.
Gary Knell, president and chief operating officer of Sesame Workshop, says in an interview that producers knew that not everybody would be open to the idea of Elmo & Co. teaching Israeli kids to respect Palestinians and vice versa.
“It’s a highly charged environment, and the press is going to reflect some of that,” Knell says. “Yes, some Israeli reports accused us of being lackeys of the Palestinians, while another article accused us of being lackeys of the Bush White House and charged that Elmo was carrying the will of the White House to the Middle East. A Jordanian Internet site accused us of being Zionist lap dogs.”
Knell stresses that the majority of media reports about the Muppets experiment had been positive.
“Sesame Stories” is now airing as three parallel productions on Jordan Television, the HOP! Channel in Israel and the Ma’an Network in the West Bank and Gaza.
Daniella Hellerstein, whose family emigrated to Israel three years ago from the United States, says she encourages four young kids to watch the show.
“I like the overall message — tolerance and respect — and I support the effort 100%,” she says. But she adds: “My children don’t completely appreciate the point of the characters — they don’t differentiate between the Jewish and Arab characters.”
Havi Livne, another mother in the region, welcomes the show unreservedly. “Suddenly, a program is dealing with Arabs not just as terrorists. For me, it opened a window to talk with the children about something very important. And it’s very important for me to know it’s shown in the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.”
Ayman El Bardawil, director of Ramallah-based independent broadcaster Al Quds Educational Television, a co-producer of the Palestinian Authority version, reports that “the children are happy about it. The feedback we’ve been getting is very good.”
Sesame Workshop’s Knell says that there have been problems other than inflammatory media reports to overcome during the past months. Just living and working in such a highly charged environment is a challenge for the producers. “One day there was a bus bombing (in Israel), and our producers dropped everything to get to the scene because they feared their children might be on the bus.
“Then one of the Palestinian writers — on his way to a production meeting –was strip-searched in the street by Israeli soldiers. Now you know he’s not coming into that meeting in a good mood.”