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2002-08-15

Selective Memri? A Debate On the Secretive Media Institute Run By Israel’s Former Counter-Terrorism Advisor That Is Disseminating Articles About Arabs to the Western Media

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This week, the Guardian newspaper of London ran an article called Selective MEMRI, and it focuses on a Washington-based non-profit organization known as the Middle East Media Research Institute. The article was by Brian Whitaker and it begins:

“For some time now, I have been receiving small gifts from a generous institute in the United States. The gifts are high-quality translations of articles from Arabic newspapers, which the institute sends to me by email every few days, entirely free-of-charge.

“The emails also go to politicians and academics, as well as to lots of other journalists. The stories they contain are usually interesting.

“Whenever I get an email from the institute, several of my Guardian colleagues receive one too and regularly forward their copies to me–sometimes with a note suggesting that I might like to check out the story and write about it.

“If the note happens to come from a more senior colleague, I’m left feeling that I really ought to write about it. One example last week was a couple of paragraphs translated by the institute, in which a former doctor in the Iraqi army claimed that Saddam Hussein had personally given orders to amputate the ears of military deserters.

“The organization that makes these translations and sends them out is the Middle East Media Research Institute (Memri), based in Washington but with recently-opened offices in London, Berlin and Jerusalem.

“Its work is subsidized by US taxpayers because as an "independent, non-partisan, non-profit" organization, it has tax-deductible status under American law.

“Memri’s purpose, according to its website, is to bridge the language gap between the west–where few speak Arabic–and the Middle East, by "providing timely translations of Arabic, Farsi, and Hebrew media".

“Despite these high-minded statements, several things make me uneasy whenever I’m asked to look at a story circulated by Memri. First of all, it’s a rather mysterious organization. Its website does not give the names of any people to contact, not even an office address . . . .

"[Secondly], 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."Well, today we’re going to have a discussion about the institute.

Guests:

  • Al Carmon, president of the Middle East Media Research Institute. He was also the former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s top counter-terrorism adviser.
  • Ali Abunimah, Vice President of the Arab American Action Network and founder of electronicintifada.net.

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