Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Puppets and Puppeteers

SHOWING HOW TO PULL THE STRINGS? Netanyahu with Baroness Ashton and Blair

PUPPETEERS and actors involved in the Israeli version of the Sesame Street show have protested against the Israeli authorities' banning of a Palestinian children's puppetry festival. Israel’s Ministry of Public Security last week ordered the temporary closure of the Hakawati Theater, the Palestinian national theater in east Jerusalem, canceling a children’s festival set to feature puppet shows and plays.

“I think every boy and girl deserves to see puppet theater,” says Ariel Doron, who provides the voice of Elmo in the Israeli version of the childrens TV show.  “There is no sense to this.” Together with  Yousef Sweid, who plays an Arab Muppet on the show, he has created a Facebook group named Puppets4All calling on Israel to permit the festival. Other Israeli Sesame Street puppeteers, along with a number of actors, uploaded photos to the Facebook group holding puppets and signs protesting the closure.

I have signed an online petition which Ariel Doron started and am persuading friends to sign it. It says every child has the right to enjoy puppet shows. A simple thing to ask.

It seems the Israeli government decided the puppets were a threat to security and stopped the festival so as to assert its sole authority over the  entire Jerusalem area, in line with which Arab families are increasingly being displaced from the city. Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said organizers of the Hakawati theatre illegally received funds from the Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank.

Having illegally annexed the eastern half of Jerusalem and much of its environs, taken in the 1967 war, the Israeli state is determined to block any chance of Palestinian claiming part of the city as their capital in a peace settlement.

It is not only the Israeli government that has taken its malice out on children. While the new Israeli version of  Sesame Street, “Rechov Sumsum” includes a Muppet of Arab origin, and characters representing Israel’s diverse Jewish immigrant population, its Palestinian counterpart “Sharaa Simsim,” which sought to offer positive role models to Palestinian children, was taken off air last year after the U.S. government cut funding. This was one of many programmes hit as Washington stopped funds in order to punish the Palestinians for appealing to the UN for recognition and statehood. The childrens' show may return to Palestinian TV next year if local funds can be obtained.

So much then for America's wish for peace and goodwill and commitment to the so-called two-state solution, and any semblance of equal rights, s well as the pretence that the Israeli government is even interested.

Meanwhile as US Secretary of State John Kerry goes to and fro, supposedly relaying messages between Palestinian president Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about resumption of talks, Netanyahu authorises yet another settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories. "Don't watch their mouths, watch their hands" remains even more valid for understanding politics than for studying puppetry.

While they have banned one sort of puppet show in Jerusalem, it appears another less amusing piece of puppetry has been performed behind the scenes in Brussels. As US-based columnist and blogger Max Blumenthal tells us:

"Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu succeeded in blocking a statement by European Union member states that would have included sharp criticism of illegal Israeli settlement activity and of the general direction of the peace process. Kerry and Netanyahu depended on Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of Foreign Affairs for the EU and a proxy of Quartet Special Representative Tony Blair, to prevent EU member states from delivering the statement at a June 24 Council gathering in Brussels.

In the past year, several European governments have issued declarations calling for a new diplomatic approach to Israel. In April, the Dutch Advisory Council on Foreign Affairs released a report in April that recommended “calling [Israel] to account for violating the law,” and urged reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

Meanwhile, Irish Tanaiste (the country’s foreign minister) Eamon Gilmore has vowed to use Ireland’s position as President of the EU Council to advance a comprehensive boycott of products from Israeli settlements. And in recent weeks, Irish Palestine solidarity activists have gained traction in local district councils with proposals for settlement product bans, sparking a retaliatory campaign of lawfare and intimidation by Irish pro-Israel groups.

At the EU Council meeting last month, the foreign ministries of the United Kingdom and France planned to advance a united EU call for labeling Israeli settlement products and a condemnation of Israeli abuses of Palestinians living in the West Bank’s Area C. Release on the eve of Kerry’s trip to Jerusalem, the statement would have offered a dramatic rebuke of Washington’s business-as-usual attitude. But the EU ministers were stymied by Ashton, who had just met with Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem.

During the meeting, Netanyahu told Ashton that if she did not block the EU statement, she would open the door for “laying the responsibility for failure on Israel’s shoulders” while giving the Palestinians “a blank check.” Despite Netanyahu’s plans to authorize 930 new homes in the East Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa, Ashton acceded to his request.

Days later, in Brussels, she announced (PDF) that she was “completely supporting John Kerry's efforts” -- even though she did not know a single detail about what Kerry planned to do when he arrived in Jerusalem. “He will tell us all about these proposals when he's ready to do so,” Ashton promised.

Ashton is fairly typical of the layer of one-time liberal "lefties" and peace believers who wound up in the entourage of Blair, the so-called peace envoy and war criminal. During the 1980’s, she was treasurer for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. (But then wasn't B-liar himself a member?). . In the 90’s, she rose through the Labour Party ranks with New Labor.  In 1999, Blair made her a life peer, entitling her to a seat in the House of Lords.

Within a decade, Ashton had secured an appointment as Europe’s top diplomat, giving her control of the EU’s foreign service and a generous salary of around $41,500 a month. Before this, she had no experience in international relations and had never been elected to office.

Since entering the job, Ashton has demonstrated her fealty to Blair at almost every turn. According to a source familiar with proceedings inside the European Union External Action Service (EEAS), which advises Ashton, she has repeatedly stopped meetings to wonder aloud, “What would Tony think about this proposal?” Ashton and Blair joined forces last year to stifle the Palestinian Authority’s campaign for statehood at the UN, a futile maneuver that pitted them against almost the entire EU. She has since worked to eliminate the position of the EU special envoy to the peace process, a move seemingly aimed at further marginalizing European influence. Ashton’s suppression of the EU Council conclusions at Brussels in June represented the culmination of her efforts to keep the US and Israel in the driver’s seat, with Blair playing the third wheel.

Having successfully suppressed European dissension that might have disrupted Kerry’s public relations strategy, Ashton was off to Bahrain, where three EU-Bahraini dual nationals languished in prison for their role in peaceful protests that were violently crushed by the autocratic regime. Seated beside the Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid ibn Ahmad Al Khalifa at a press conference, Ashton and her counterpart “underlined the importance of further strengthening EU-GCC ties,” according to Bahrain’s official news agency.

(GCC -Gulf Co-operation Council, the Saudi led reactionary alliance -RP)

Doesn't it make you proud of Britain's role in the European Union and the Middle East, and the kind of people whom the Labour Party is still harbouring?

I sometimes feel my friends who worry about European Union .influence on British policy should look at it the other way round occasionally.

As for the more entertaining kind of puppets, the Israeli closure of a Palestinian theatre and prevention of a children's festival undermines those defending Israel as a "democracy" and claiming that a boycott offends against cultural freedom. But on the other hand, looking at the way those Israeli puppeteers have raised their voices for their Palestinian fellow-artists, I think some of the energy expanded on a "cultural boycott" could be more usefully and justly directed aganst certain British and American politicians and institutions.  .

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