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The Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI for short, is a Middle Eastern press monitoring organization. Its headquarter is located in Washington, DC, with branch offices in Jerusalem, Berlin, London, Rome, Shanghai, Baghdad, and Tokyo. MEMRI was co-founded in 1998 by Yigal Carmon, a former colonel in Israeli military intelligence, and another Israeli Meyrav Wurmser. It provides a free source of English language translations of material published in Arabic and Persian script, and publishes its analyses and in-depth reports on its website.

The organization's translations are regularly quoted by major international newspapers, and its work has generated strong criticism and praise. Several critics have accused MEMRI of selectivity stating that it consistently picks for translation and dissemination the most extreme views from Arabic and Persian media, which portray the Arab and Muslim world in a negative light, while ignoring moderate views that are often found in the same media outlets.[1][2][2][3][4]

Objectives and projects

MEMRI's current mission statement states the organization "explores the Middle East through the region's media. MEMRI bridges the language gap which exists between the West and the Middle East, providing timely translations of Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu-Pashtu media, as well as original analysis of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends in the Middle East."[5] Until 2001, its Mission Statement stated that the institute also emphasizes "the continuing relevance of Zionism to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel."[6] Concerning this change in their ‘mission statement,’ Political Research Associates (PRA) notes that it occurred three weeks after the September 11 attacks, and considers MEMRI "was previously more forthcoming about its political orientation in its self-description and in staff profiles on its website."[7]

MEMRI's goals and emphasis have evolved over the years; it originally translated articles in both Arabic and Hebrew. PRA, which studies the US political right, considers that “MEMRI's slogan, ‘Bridging the Language Gap Between the Middle East and the West,’ does not convey the institute's stridently pro-Israel and anti-Arab political bias.” It further notes, that MEMRI's founders, Wurmser and Carmon, “are both hardline pro-Israel ideologues aligned with Israel's Likud party.”[7]

The organization became more prominent after the September 11, 2001 attacks, due to increased Western public interest in the Arab world and Iran. At that time, it expanded its staff considerably, setting up new branches outside the United States in early 2002. It has maintained longstanding relations with law enforcement agencies.[8]

MEMRI's translated articles and media analysis focus on the following areas:

  • Jihad and Terrorism Studies Project
  • U.S. And the Middle East
  • Reform in the Middle East and North Africa
  • Arab-Israeli Conflict
  • Inter-Arab Relations
  • Antisemitism Documentation Project

Starting in October 2006, they added The Islamist Websites Monitor Project focusing on the translated news, videos, and analysis of "major jihadi websites".[9]

Staff

When founded in 1998, MEMRI's staff of seven included three who had formerly served in military intelligence in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).[10][1] MEMRI president and founder Yigal Carmon states that MEMRI's current staff includes "people of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths [who] hold a range of political views."[11]

Prominent staff

  • Yigal Carmon — MEMRI's founder and President. Carmon is fluent in Arabic. He served as Colonel in the Military Intelligence Directorate (Israel) from 1968 to 1988. He was Acting Head of Civil Administration in the West Bank and the adviser on Arab affairs to the civil administration from 1977 to 1982. He advised Prime Ministers Shamir and Rabin on countering Palestinian militants from 1988 to 1993. In 1991 and 1992 Carmon was a senior member of the Israeli delegation at peace negotiations with Syria in Madrid and Washington.[12] He is also the Director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute and contributing expert to the Ariel Center.[13]
  • Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli received a Ph.D. in development planning from the University of Michigan. He spent most of his professional career at the World Bank, and has consulted for the International Monetary Fund. Raphaeli, an Iraqi-born U.S. citizen, joined the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) as a senior analyst in 2001.
  • Professor Menahem Milson (Academic Advisor), is a professor at Hebrew University in Arabic literature, and has served as head of the Department of Arabic Language and Literature and Dean of the Faculty of Humanities. He has published extensively on modern Egyptian writers. His book on Egyptian humanist Najib Mahfuz - Najib Mahfuz: The Novelist-Philosopher of Cairo appeared in 1998. Between 1976 to 1978, then-Minister of Defense Shimon Peres appointed Milson as an adviser on Arab affairs to the Israeli military where he became the No. 2 adviser. In 1981, then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon returned Milson as head of the civil administration of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Milson served in that position until he resigned in 1982.[14][15][16]
  • Meyrav Wurmser (co-founding Executive Director). Wurmser was one of the authors of the "Clean Break" document which proposed reshaping Israel's "strategic environment" in the Middle East, starting with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. [17].

Financial support

MEMRI is registered in the US with the IRS as a non-profit organization.[5] They have a policy of not accepting money from governments, relying instead on around 250 private donors, including other organizations and foundations.[18]

MediaTransparency, an organization[19] that monitors the financial ties of conservative think tanks to conservative foundations in the United States, reported that for the years 1999 to 2004, MEMRI received $100,000 from The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Inc., $100,000 from The Randolph Foundation, and $5,000 from the John M. Olin Foundation[20].

MEMRI's U.S. income statement of June 2004 stated that its total U.S. revenue was US$2,571,899, its total U.S. functional expenses were $2,254,990, and that it possessed net assets of $700,784. Charity Navigator, an organization[21] that evaluates the financial health of America's largest charities, has given MEMRI a four-star (exceptional) rating, meaning that it "... exceeds industry standards and outperforms most charities in its Cause" when rated on its financial health.[22][23]

Controversy

MEMRI's work has been attacked on three grounds: that their work is biased; that they choose articles to translate selectively so as to give an unrepresentative view of the media they are reporting on; and that their translations are sometimes inaccurate.[11] MEMRI has responded to the attacks of critics, stating that their work is not biased; that they in fact choose representative articles from the Arab media that accurately reflect the opinions expressed, and that their translations are highly accurate.[11]

Claims of bias

Brian Whitaker, the Middle East editor for The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom, has been one of the most outspoken critics of MEMRI, writing: "My problem with Memri is that it poses as a research institute when it's basically a propaganda operation,"[11] to "further the political agenda of Israel."[1] Whitaker has also complained that "MEMRI's website does not mention you [Carmon] or your work for Israeli intelligence. Nor does it mention MEMRI's co-founder, Meyrav Wurmser, and her extreme brand of Zionism.... Given your political background, it's legitimate to ask whether MEMRI is a trustworthy vehicle."[11]

In response, MEMRI President Yigal Carmon, states: "You are right: we do have an agenda. As an institute of research, we want MEMRI to present translations to people who wish to be informed on the ideas circulating in the Middle East. We aim to reflect reality. If knowledge of this reality should benefit one side or another, then so be it."[11]

Claims of selectivity

Several critics have accused MEMRI of selectivity. They state that MEMRI consistently picks for translation and dissemination the most extreme views, which portray the Arab and Muslim world in a negative light, while ignoring moderate views that are often found in the same media outlets.[1][2][2][24][25] According to Juan Cole, Professor of Modern Middle East History at the University of Michigan, MEMRI has a tendency to "cleverly cherry-pick the vast Arabic press, which serves 300 million people, for the most extreme and objectionable articles and editorials" [26] Laila Lalami, writing in The Nation, states that MEMRI "consistently picks the most violent, hateful rubbish it can find, translates it and distributes it in e-mail newsletters to media and members of Congress in Washington".[2] As a result, critics such as Ken Livingstone state, MEMRI's analyses are "distortion."[27][28][29]

MEMRI responds to the criticism by saying that the media had a tendency to whitewash statements of Arab leaders,[12] and that its translations are accurate representations: "Memri has never claimed to 'represent the view of the Arabic media', but rather to reflect, through our translations, general trends which are widespread and topical."[11] John Lloyd has defended MEMRI in the New Statesmen, stating that "Memri and Carmon have been accused of selecting the worst of a diverse media: however, the sheer range of what is available weakens that criticism, as does support for the initiative by Arab liberals."[30] Thomas L. Friedman, a political opinion columnist for the New York Times, credits MEMRI with helping to "shine a spotlight on hate speech wherever it appears."[31] Jay Nordlinger, the managing editor of National Review, similarly writes: "Wading or clicking through MEMRI's materials can be a depressing act, but it is also illusion-dispelling, and therefore constructive. This one institute is worth a hundred reality-twisting Middle Eastern Studies departments in the U.S."[32]

Claims of translation inaccuracy

The accuracy of MEMRI's translations is sometimes disputed,[33] as in the case of MEMRI's translation of a 2004 Osama bin Laden video, which MEMRI defended.[11][28][34][35][36] Norman Finkelstein, in an interview with the Muslim newspaper In Focus said MEMRI "uses the same sort of propaganda techniques as the Nazis... [I]t’s a reliable assumption that anything MEMRI translates from the Middle East is going to be unreliable."[37]

In 2007, CNN correspondent Atika Shubert and Arabic translators accused MEMRI of mistranslating portions of a Palestinian children's television programme.

"Media watchdog MEMRI translates one caller as saying - quote - 'We will annihilate the Jews,"' said Shubert. "But, according to several Arabic speakers used by CNN, the caller actually says 'The Jews are killing us."' [38]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Brian Whitaker, Selective Memri, Guardian Unlimited, Monday August 12, 2002
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Laila Lalami, "Missionary Position," The Nation (19 June 2006) p. 32.
  3. Leila Hudson, "The New Ivory Towers: Think Tanks, Strategic Studies and 'Counterrealism'," Middle East Policy 12:4 (Winter 2005) p. 130.
  4. Debate on CNN
  5. 5.0 5.1 MEMRI About Us, Memri.org, accessed July 23 2006
  6. Memri.org Mission Statement, at web.archive.org, accessed July 2 2001
  7. 7.0 7.1 Middle East Media Research Institute at Political Research Associates
  8. John Baron: Israeli Web site Debka.com at center of New York ‘dirty bomb’ tip The Jewish Journal, August 16, 2007. Accessed March 5, 2009.
  9. The Islamist Websites Monitor No. 1, Memri.org, accessed January 28 2006
  10. Memri.org Mission Statement, at web.archive.org, accessed Dec 2 1998
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 11.7 Email debate: Yigal Carmon and Brian Whitaker at Guardian Unlimited, January 28 2003
  12. 12.0 12.1 One on One with Yigal Carmon: If MEMRI serves... Jerusalem Post, Nov. 16, 2006
  13. WRMEA The Pentagon's Dynamic Duo: Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz By Richard H. Curtiss
  14. William B. Quandt, The Middle East: Ten Years after Camp David, Brookings Institution Press, 1988, ISBN 0815772939, page 308
  15. Lesley Pearl, Ex-West Bank `mayor' in Berkeley visit, says Jews must study Arab culture, Jewish news weekly of Northern California, November 24, 1995
  16. Growing Doubts at Home Time Magazine, May 17, 1982
  17. guardian.co.ukArabic under fire by Brian Whitaker
  18. Thanks for the MEMRI (.org) Jay Nordlinger, National Review, September 13 2004, accessed July 23 2006
  19. Cursor, Inc. About Us cursor.org accessed Oct. 15 2007
  20. MEMRI Media Transparency Profile, accessed Oct. 7 2007
  21. Charity Navigator About Us charitynavigator.org accessed Oct. 15 2007
  22. Charity Navigator, Charity Navigator Rating - The Middle East Media Research Institute
  23. Charity Navigator, What Do Our Ratings Mean, accessed Oct. 8, 2007
  24. Leila Hudson, "The New Ivory Towers: Think Tanks, Strategic Studies and 'Counterrealism'," Middle East Policy 12:4 (Winter 2005) p. 130.
  25. Debate on CNN
  26. Bin Laden's Audio: Threat to States?, Professor Juan Cole Informed Comment blog, November 2 2004 - accessed on 1/08/07
  27. "Propaganda that widens the Arab-West divide - Gained in translation". Le Monde Diplomatique. October 2005. http://mondediplo.com/2005/10/15propaganda.  See in French (freely available) "Traduction ou trahison? Désinformation à l’israélienne.". Le Monde Diplomatique. October 2005. http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2005/09/EL_OIFI/12796#nb11.  (Persian translation also available for free here)
  28. 28.0 28.1 Mayor of London Press Release
  29. Rima Barakat, "MEMRI's systematic distortions," Rocky Mountain News (27 March 2006) p. 35A.
  30. John Lloyd, "Pay any price, bear any burden?," New Statesman (3 February 2003).
  31. Friedman, Thomas L. "Giving the Hatemongers No Place to Hide." July 22, 2005. Retrieved on March 23, 2009.
  32. Jay Nordlinger, Thanks for the MEMRI (.org) National Review May 6, 2002
  33. Whitaker, Brian (15 May 2007). "Arabic under fire". The Guardian. http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/brian_whitaker/2007/05/arabic_under_fire.html. Retrieved 2007-05-16. 
  34. Yigal Carmon Osama Bin Laden Tape Threatens U.S. States memri.org, 1 November 2004
  35. Ramona Smith, "Did Osama send election threat?," Philadelphia Daily News (2 November 2004).
  36. TBS 13
  37. Lawrence Swaim, MEMRI is 'propaganda machine' expert says, Southern California InFocus, June 7, 2007
  38. POLITICS-US: Pro-Israel Group's Money Trail Veers Hard Right (IPS, 21.10.2009)

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This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Middle East Media Research Institute. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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