Middle East Media Research Institute

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Marketing itself as a research institute that "explores the Middle East through the region's media,"[1] the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) translates individually selected non-English articles with the intent of distributing them to media outlets free of charge.[2]

Founded in February 1998 by Meyrav Wurmser and Colonel Yigal Carmon, MEMRI aims to "inform the debate over U.S. policy in the Middle East,"as an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit, 501(c)3 organization.[1] MEMRI has been widely criticized for an alleged bias and ulterior agenda.[2] At one time MEMRI included in its mission statement that through its research "the institute emphasizes the continuing relevance of Zionism to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel,[3] but has since removed this statement. MEMRI is based in Washington, DC, and claims to have branch offices in major cities all over the world. As a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, MEMRI is subsidized by US taxpayers.[2]

Contents

History

MEMRI was founded in 1998 by Meyrav Wurmser and Colonel Yigal Carmon, formerly of Israeli military intelligence. Wurmser left MEMRI in 2002 to join the Center of Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute. Wurmser's position as executive director was replaced by Steven Stalinsky. All of MEMRI's principal members reportedly harbour hardline pro-Israel views.[4] Analysts argue that MEMRI gained prominence and was able to enforce its legitimacy after the events of 9/11.[4] MEMRI's translations and reports are distributed without charge, and their reports are frequently published in right-wing and neoconservative media outlets. While some analysts argue that MEMRI "could have more impact with a commercial subscription based news service business model,"[5] MEMRI's growing influence in US foreign policy is nevertheless widely acknowledged.

Founders include Romanian born Yigal Carmon who is a reserve colonel in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) (Yigal also served in the IDF/Intelligence Branch from 1968 to 1988), and Meyrav Wurmser, an Israeli-born academic and neoconservative analyst who acknowledged her role (along with other neoconservative) in manufacturing consent for the US war on Iraq in a 2003 BBC documentary.[6] Although MEMRI insists on its objectivity, the deeply political and strongly aligned background of its founders casts doubt on this claim.[4]

Funding

Although MEMRI does not provide funding source information anywhere on its official website, Jay Nordlinger of the right-wing National Review has alleged that it "exists primarily on private donations" generated by "250 donors, including some foundations."[7] Questions about MEMRI's funding were first raised in 2004 (6 years after its establishment) due to allegations about its secrecy because it concealed the identity of its staff on its website[2] (the website now includes staff profiles), and questions and comments raised by US academic Juan Cole.[8]

Donors

MEMRI donors that have their contributions published on the web include the John M. Olin Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Randolph Foundation and the Shelby Cullom Davis Foundation.[9] All have a history of supporting right-wing organizations.

Other donors include the pro-Israel Koret Foundation which from 2006-2008 provided MEMRI with $450,000 in grants from its "Support for Israel" and "Israel" categories[10] and the Champaign-Urbana Jewish Federation which does not disclose how much it has donated to MEMRI on the web.[11]

Financials

The Media Matters Action Network reports that MEMRI's revenue and expenses increased annually from 2002-07 resulting in excess funds for each of those years beginning with $1,718,712 in revenue and $1,426,606 in expenses in 2002 to $4,859,413 in revenue and $4,275,968 in expenses in 2007.[12] In 2008 and 2009 MEMRI reported deficits.

Staff Compensation

For FYE 06/2008 Charity Navigator reports that MEMRI reported providing President Yigal Carmon with a salary of $138,383 and Executive Director Steven Stalinsky with $123,435.[13] While Charity Navigator reports that MEMRI allocates 6.5% of its funds to "administrative expenses" it does not specify as to whether salaries are also included in MEMRI's "program expenses" which consumed 86.1% of its funds for FYE 2008.[14]

Other staff salaries include Director of Development Gisele A. Gildener who received $67,771 in 2009, Ruhama Sosnow who received $63,771 in 2009 and Program Staff member Omran Hasan who received $72,825 in 2008.[15]

RD Consulting

MEMRI is listed as a client of RD Consulting which provides fundraising development services to non-profit organizations.[16]

Criticism

  • MEMRI is often criticized for "cherry-picking" the articles it translates. Brian Whitaker, a journalist who regularly receives MEMRI translations writes:
The second thing that makes me uneasy is that the stories selected by Memri for translation follow a familiar pattern: either they reflect badly on the character of Arabs or they in some way further the political agenda of Israel. I am not alone in this unease.[2]
  • MEMRI has also been criticized for misrepresenting and inaccurately translating non-English articles. Brian Whittaker emphasizes the importance of accuracy in translation for international relations:
As far as relations between the west and the Arab world are concerned, language is a barrier that perpetuates ignorance and can easily foster misunderstanding.
All it takes is a small but active group of Israelis to exploit that barrier for their own ends and start changing western perceptions of Arabs for the worse.[2]
  • According to Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA counterintelligence official, MEMRI is selective and acts as propagandists for a political point of view which follows the extreme right of Likud.[17]
  • US academic and Middle East scholar Juan Cole has referred to MEMRI as a "neoconservative organ"[18] due to its founders' political affiliations and links with prominent neoconservative institutions and individuals. Writes Cole:
I continue to maintain that MEMRI is selective and biased against the Arab press, and that it highlights pieces that cast Arabs, especially committed Muslims, in a negative light. That it also rewards secular Arabs for being secularists is entirely beside the point (and this is the function of the "reform" site). On more than one occasion I have seen, say, a bigoted Arabic article translated by MEMRI and when I went to the source on the Web, found that it was on the same op-ed page with other, moderate articles arguing for tolerance. These latter were not translated.[19]
  • Cole has also accused the organization of selectivity in their translation and misrepresentation of the actual content they choose to translate. In one case Cole was threatened with a lawsuit by MEMRI (which was never carried out) after Cole argued that MEMRI had misrepresented the meaning of words used by Osama Bin Laden in a video message.[18][19]
  • In his response to MEMRI's SLAPP action against him Cole also identified another criticism of MEMRI, namely, that it violates the intellectual property of Arab writers by:
...appropriating their content without paying for it, storing it on their servers, and then claiming copyright in the work as translated! This is a shameful way of proceeding. Where the source articles are published in a country that is signatory to the major international copyright agreements, it may be illegal. All sites dealing in other languages do quote or translate from time to time, which falls under fair use. But MEMRI has a much more systematic set of appropriations going.[19]

Brian Whitaker maintains that MEMRI articles follow a distinct pattern of 'reflecting badly on the character of Arabs or they in some way further the political agenda of Israel.'[2]

Ibrahim Hooper in an interview with the Washington Post claimed; 'Memri's intent is to find the worst possible quotes from the Muslim world and disseminate them as widely as possible.[2]

In response to MEMRI's threats against Juan Cole, US academic and analyst Marc Lynch wrote:

MEMRI routinely selects articles which show the worst of Arab discourse, even where this represents only a minority of actually expressed opinion, while almost never acknowledging the actual distribution of opinion. As for the Reform Project, it tends to select statements by pro-American reformers who concentrate on criticizing other Arabs, again with little regard for the real debates going on among Arabs. Your selective translations therefore offer a doubly warped perspective on the Arab debates: first, over-emphasizing the presence of radical and noxious voices; and second, over-emphasizing the importance of a small and marginal group of Arabs who share your own prejudices. What you leave out is almost the entire Arab political debate which really matters to Arabs: a lively debate on satellite stations such as al Jazeera and al Arabiya and in the elite Arab press about reform, international relations, political Islam, democracy, and Arab culture which English-speaking readers would greatly benefit from knowing about.[20]
  • Former US ambassador in the Middle East William Rugh stated that MEMRI portrays Arabs as hating Jews and refusing any peaceful settlement of Palestine issues:
"This service does not present a balanced or complete picture of the Arab print media," Rugh said. "Its owners are pro-Israeli and anti-Arab. Quotes are selected to portray Arabs as preaching hatred against Jews and westerners, praising violence and refusing any peaceful settlement of the Palestinian issue."[21]
MEMRI Needs to Be Moved to “Unreliable”: Ah. Clearly it’s time to stop reading (and citing) MEMRI.[22]
  • In a 2002 debate which included author and Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah and MEMRI co-founder [[[Yigal Carmon]] MEMRI was accused of selectively translating particularly offensive pieces from middle east media outlets in an attempt to portray the messages as representative of the region as a whole:
NIMAH: and find racist anti-Arab, anti-Muslim expressions, it's very, very easy. In fact, you find them every day, and what they're doing with this so-called think tank, MEMRI...My point is that what they're trying to do is to pretend that the effect of the conflict is the cause of the conflict. The cause of the conflict is the fact that 4 million plus Palestinians do not have basic freedom and human rights, and no amount of spin...no attempt to pretend...that it's just media spin will take that away.[23]

Dispute with Juan Cole

Cole's Criticism of a MEMRI Translation

In November 2004 during the US presidential elections Mideast scholar and foreign policy analyst Juan Cole wrote an article arguing that MEMRI had misinterpreted a recorded audiotape speech by Osama Bin Laden which was then circulated around the web. MEMRI had alleged that Bin Laden used the word "wilayah" to threaten specific US states against voting for Bush, but Cole (who is fluent in Arabic) shows that MEMRI's interpretation of the word was incorrect and logically implausible:

MEMRI is claiming that the word used for "state" in this sentence means state as in Rhode Island and New Jersey.
But while they are right to draw attention to the oddness of the diction, their conclusion is impossible.
Bin Laden says that such a "state" should not trifle with Muslims' security. He cannot possibly mean that he thinks Rhode Island is in a position to do so. Nor can he be referring to which way a state votes, since he begins by saying that the security of Americans is not in the hands of Bush or Kerry. He has already dismissed them as equivalent and irrelevant, in and of themselves.
Moreover, the way he uses wilayah is strange if he meant a Rhode Island kind of state. He should have said "ayy wilayah min al-wilayaat," "any state among the states" or some such diction.[18]

MEMRI Threatens Cole with a SLAPP

Shortly after the publication of his article Cole received a letter from MEMRI (signed by founder Colonel Yigal Carmon) threatening Cole with a Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation or SLAPP, a lawsuit which is known to be used as a tool to silence critics by burdening them with the hassles of legal defense until they feel pressured enough to withdraw their criticism.[24]

In the MEMRI letter Yigal issued the following allegations:[19]

1) That Cole had incorrectly portrayed MEMRI as a well-funded organization.
2) That Cole had incorrectly called MEMRI an "anti-Arab propaganda machine"
3) That Cole had incorrectly argued that MEMRI publicizes right-wing Likudnik views

Yigal ends the letter by threatening Cole with a SLAPP:

As such, we demand that you retract the false statements you have made about MEMRI. If you will not do so, we will be forced to pursue legal action against you personally and against the University of Michigan, which the article identifies you as an employee of. We hope this will not be necessary.[19]

Cole's Response

Cole did not retract his statements about MEMRI and instead responded to them point by point as follows:[19]

1) I am glad to publish the annual funding of MEMRI, and its sources, as provided by Col. Carmon, if he will tell us what the figure is, which he has not. As a historian, I have no desire to have anything but the facts in evidence. MEMRI obviously a well-funded operation, as any familiarity with its scope and activities would make clear. In the meantime, I am glad to acknowledge that the figure I gave has been disputed by Col. Carmon. I think he would find that in democratic countries, in any case, a dispute over an organization's level of funding would be laughed out of court as a basis for a libel action. In fact, I am giggling as I write this.
2) I continue to maintain that MEMRI is selective and biased against the Arab press, and that it highlights pieces that cast Arabs, especially committed Muslims, in a negative light. That it also rewards secular Arabs for being secularists is entirely beside the point (and this is the function of the "reform" site). On more than one occasion I have seen, say, a bigoted Arabic article translated by MEMRI and when I went to the source on the Web, found that it was on the same op-ed page with other, moderate articles arguing for tolerance. These latter were not translated.
3) I did not allege that MEMRI or Col. Carmon are "affiliated" with the Likud Party. What I said was that MEMRI functions as a PR campaign for Likud Party goals. Col. Carmon and Meyrav Wurmser, who run MEMRI, were both die-hard opponents of the Oslo peace process, and so ipso facto were identified with the Likud rejectionists on that central issue.

Conclusion

To date MEMRI did not follow through with a lawsuit and has not taken any legal action against Cole. Several prominent bloggers expressed mostly support for Cole in the days after Cole published MEMRI's threat and his response to it.[25]

Some users of MEMRI materials (alpha order)

"On the other hand, few challenge the accuracy of MEMRI's translations: unpalatable though they are, the texts MEMRI finds are all too real."[26]
"The role that MEMRI is playing in bringing the voices of the Arab and Muslim Reform – from Arabic into English, to the world – has been absolutely invaluable for everyone who cares about this process and wants to follow it."
- Thomas Friedman, May 6, 2003 [1]
  • Kevin Myers – writes for the Irish Times and The Telegraph. He writes:
"I receive an invaluable service from the Middle East Media Research Institute, which translates material from the region. What is impossible to appreciate without such translations is the sheer scale of genocidal anti-Semitism which infuses Palestinian Authority propaganda.[2]
"In the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where the ultraextreme sect of Wahhabism is the state religion, various sermons and other declamations were heard, alleging that Allah punished the Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and non-Wahhabi Muslims of the South Asian countries for their failure to accept Islam, above all in its Saudi form (as recorded and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute).[3]
"Numerous articles and commentary in the Saudi press are openly anti-Jewish, offensive, and discriminatory: the "Zionist movement" is labeled as evil; blood libel accusations are made; hatred toward Jews is encouraged; Jews are said to be trying to take over the world; and the existence of the Holocaust is denied.[60]
[60]See multiple translated articles with anti-Semitic and discriminatory language from the Saudi press at the Middle East Media Research Institute ( MEMRI ) Web site: [followed by four links]
  • Elie Wiesel – Professional Holocaust survivor (as Uri Avnery refers to him), member of the Irgun Zvei Leumi [4], and professional moralist.
"I hope you receive MEMRI's publications. I do. I find its material – translations and analyses of poisonous articles, hate-filled statements and slanderous accusations – vitally needed for the fight against antisemitism in the Arab world. Policy makers, legislators, teachers, and news commentators greatly benefit from its efforts to use truth in the service of peace."
- Elie Wiesel, May 22, 2003[5]
"… the excellent Middle East Media Research Institute"
-Former CIA director James Woolsey, June 10, 2002 [6]

People

Principals

Board of Directors

Board of Advisors

Former advisors

Directors/Editor

Contact, References and Resources

Contact

The only address provided is one to send donations to and is as follows:

MEMRI
P.O. Box 27837
Washington, DC 20038-7837
Phone: (202) 955-9070
Fax: (202) 955-9077
Website: www.memri.org/, (Accessed 25t April 2006)
Additional URLs: http://www.memri.info; http://www.memri.net
MEMRI-TV:http://www.memritv.org/
MEMRI blog:http://www.thememriblog.org/
The MEMRI blog on Twitter:http://twitter.com/memrireports
MEMRI Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor:http://www.memrijttm.org/
MEMRI on Youtube:http://www.youtube.com/user/MEMRITVVideos
MEMRI on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Middle-East-Media-Research-Institute-MEMRI/14310874716
MEMRI on Flickr:http://www.flickr.com/people/memri/

Resources

Profiles

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 MEMRI, "About", MEMRI Wesbite, accessed on 28 September 2010
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Brian Whitaker, "Selective MEMRI", Guardian, 12 August 2002
  3. MEMRI, "About The Institute: Mission Statement ", MEMRI website (web archive), accessed on 28 September 2010
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Right Web, Profile of Meyrav Wurmser, Right Web, accessed on 19 April 2006
  5. IRmep, "America’s Middle East Policy Think Tanks: What Went Wrong?", IRmep website, accessed on 28 September 2010
  6. BBC News, Panorama: The War Party, BBC Website, 18 May 2003 (accessed on 28 September 2010)
  7. Jay Nordlinger, "Thanks for the MEMRI (.org", National Review, 13 September 2004 (accessed on 11 October 2010
  8. Juan Cole, MEMRI Funding, Informed Comment, 24 November 2004
  9. Media Matters Action Network, "MEMRI Funders", Media Matters Action Network, accessed on 12 October 2010
  10. Koret Foundation, "Koret Foundation Grants", Koret Foundation, accessed on 12 October 2010
  11. Champaign-Urbana Jewish Federation, "Allocations", CUJF, accessed on 13 October 2010
  12. Media Matters Action Network, "MEMRI Financials", Media Matters Action Network, accessed on 13 October 2010
  13. Charity Navigator, "MEMRI Leadership", Charity Navigator, accessed on 13 October 2010
  14. Charity Navigator, "Historical Data", Charity Navigator, accessed on 13 October 2010
  15. Media Matters Action Network, "MEMRI People", Media Matters Action Network, accessed on 13 October 2010
  16. RD Consulting, "Who We Serve", RD Consulting, accessed on 13 October 2010
  17. Richard H. Curtiss, "Meyrav Wurmser: The Neocons’ Den Mother", Washington Report, April 2007
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Juan Cole, "Osama Threatening Red States?", Antiwar.com, 3 November 2004
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 19.4 19.5 Juan Cole, "Repressive Memri", AntiWar.com, 24 November 2004
  20. Marc Lynch, "Dear MEMRI", Abu Aardvark, 24 November 2004
  21. Brian Whitaker, "Language Matters", Guardian, 28 September 2005
  22. Brad DeLong, "MEMRI Needs to Be Moved to "Unreliable", Grasping Reality with Both Hands, 23 November 2004
  23. CNN, "Q&A WITH ZAIN VERJEE", CNN.com, 29 July 2002, accessed on 13 October 2010
  24. On the Media, "SLAPP Back", On the Media, 2 April 2010
  25. Juan Cole, "Bloggers Respond", Informed Comment, 25 November 2004
  26. Jonathan Freeland, "Comment: The sickness bequeathed by the west to the Muslim world", The Guardian, 14 December 2005
  27. Grami is longer on the board as of February 2013; email notification from MEMRI to Powerbase editors, 14 February 2013
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