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The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) is a not for profit press monitoring and analysis organization with headquarters in Washington, DC. MEMRI publishes and distributes free English language translations of Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Pashto, and Turkish media reports.
MEMRI states that its goal is to “bridge the language gap between the Middle East and the West.” It has been praised as an “invaluable” resource and for helping to “shine a spotlight on hate speech wherever it appears”. Critics charge that despite portraying itself as neutral, it aims to portray the Arab and Muslim world in a negative light through the production and dissemination of incomplete translations and by selectively translating views of extremists while deemphasizing or ignoring mainstream opinions.
Based in Washington, D.C. with branch offices in Jerusalem, Berlin, London, Rome, Shanghai, Baghdad, and Tokyo, MEMRI was founded in 1998 by Yigal Carmon and Meyrav Wurmser. Wurmser, who later left MEMRI in 2001, is an Israeli-born American scholar of the Arab world. She is also a Senior Fellow at the US think tank, the Hudson Institute, who participated in a study that led to the report, A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, a paper prepared for Likud party leader and then-incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
MEMRI’s founding staff of seven included three who had formerly served in military intelligence in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). 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”.
- 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.
- Alberto M. Fernandez – Vice President of MEMRI since June 2015. Ambassador Fernandez is a fluent Arabic speaker and was a career foreign service officer with the US Department of State from 1983 to 2015, serving mostly in the Middle East and Africa.
- Steven Stalinsky – Executive Director of MEMRI. Stalinsky holds a M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies and a B.A. in Religious Studies. Stalinsky writes articles on the Middle East for National Review and the New York Sun.
- Nimrod Raphaeli – Senior Analyst and editor of MEMRI’s Economic Blog. An Iraqi-born U.S. citizen, Raphaeli has a Ph.D. in development planning from the University of Michigan.
- Menahem Milson – Board of Advisors chairman. Milson has been a professor of Arabic literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem since 1963, and is currently the head of its Arabic-Hebrew Dictionary project.[verification needed] In November 1981, Milson was the first head of the “civil administration” that Israel imposed on the occupied territories to replace the purely military administration that had been there since 1967.
- Tufail Ahmad – South Asia Studies Project Director. A British journalist of Indian origin, Ahmad studied Social Systems for an M.A. at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University and received an M.A. in War Studies from King’s College London.
- Mansour Al-Hadj – Director of MEMRI’s “Reform in The Arab and Muslim World project”. A Saudi Arabian journalist.
- Mirza A. B. Baig – Senior Analyst at MEMRI’s South Asia Studies Project. He is an Indian researcher who studied at the Jamia Millia Islamia for two master’s degrees and obtained an MPhil in comparative literature and a PhD from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Board of Directors
- Oliver “Buck” Revell, Chairman, former Associate Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, President of Revell Group International
- Michael Mukasey, former U.S. Attorney General, former Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
- Reid Morden, former Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada and President and CEO of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL)
- Robert R. Reilly, former Senior Advisor at the Department of Defense, Chairman of the Committee for Western Civilization at the Claremont Institute and CEO of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL)
- Jeffrey Kaufman, an intellectual property lawyer
- Steve Emerson, journalist, author, Executive Director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism
Objectives and projects
MEMRI’s original mission statement read: “In its research, the institute puts emphasis on the continuing relevance of Zionism to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel.” In September 2001, MEMRI replaced it with the current mission statement, which states that 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–Pashto media, as well as original analysis of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends in the Middle East.” MEMRI’s goals and emphasis have evolved over the years; it originally translated articles in both Arabic and Hebrew.
Concerning this change in their ‘mission statement,’ Political Research Associates (PRA), which studies the US political right, 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”. PRA 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”. Carmon, in a public letter to Juan Cole that included a threat with a lawsuit over his comments on memri, stated that he has never been affiliated with Likud. Cole answered that he hadn’t alleged that, but that memri would campaign for Likud goals such as the rejection of the Oslo peace process.
The organization indirectly gained public prominence as a source of news and analysis about the Muslim world, following the September 11 attacks and the subsequent war on terrorism by the Bush administration. According to MEMRI, its translations and reports are distributed to “congresspersons, congressional staff, policy makers, journalists, academics, and interested parties”. According to PRA, MEMRI’s translated articles and its commentary are routinely cited in national media outlets in the United States, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times, while analyses by MEMRI staff and officers are frequently published by right-wing and neoconservative media outlets such as National Review, Fox News, Commentary, and the Weekly Standard. PRA writes that both critics and supporters of MEMRI note its increasing influence in shaping perceptions of the Middle East. It has maintained longstanding relations with law enforcement agencies.
In 2012, Haaretz reported that Israeli intelligence agencies have reduced their monitoring the Palestinian media with MEMRI and Palestinian Media Watch now providing the Israeli government with coverage of “anti-Israel incitement” in social media, blogs and other online sources. The Prime Minister’s Bureau has stated that before the government cites information provided by the two sources, the source of the material and its credibility is confirmed.
MEMRI’s work is organized into projects, each with a specific focus. The main subjects the organization addresses are jihad and terrorism; relations between the U.S. and Middle East; pro-democracy and pro-civil rights views; inter-Arab relations; and anti-semitism.
The Reform Project, according to MEMRI, focuses on monitoring, translating, and amplifying media from Muslim figures and movements with progressive viewpoints in the Arab and Muslim world. The project also aims to provide a platform for those sources to expand their reach. MEMRI has stated that this is the organization’s flagship project.
The MEMRI Lantos Archives on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial, a joint project with the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice launched in 2009, is a repository of translated Arabic and Farsi material on anti-Semitism. The project is sponsored by the U.S. State Department. Through its translations and research, the project aims to document anti-Semitic trends in the Middle East and South Asia. The project provides policymakers with translations and footage of anti-Semitic comments made by media personalities, academics, and government and religious leaders. MEMRI holds an annual Capitol Hill gathering through the project, and publishes an annual report on Antisemitism and Holocaust denial. The archives were named for Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor to serve in United States Congress.
Arab and Iranian television programming is monitored, translated, and analyzed through the MEMRI TV Monitoring Project. Established in 2004, the project’s translated video clips are available to the media and general public.
Activity by terrorist and violent extremist organizations is tracked through the Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). The project disseminates jihadi-associated social media content and propaganda released by various Islamic State media companies.
The organization’s Cyber and Jihad Lab (CJL) tracks cyberterrorism. According to MEMRI, the CJL’s goal is to inform and make recommendations to legislators and the business community about the threat of cyberterrorism. Initiatives have included encouraging social media companies to remove terrorist accounts and sought legislation to prevent terrorist entities from using their platforms.
MEMRI’s other projects include the Russian Media Studies Project, which translates Russian media and publishes reports analyzing Russian political ideology, the Iran Studies Project, the South Asia Studies Project, and the 9/11 Documentation Project.
MEMRI provides translations into and analysis in English, French, Polish, Japanese, Spanish, and Hebrew.