Selective Memri

I have heard mention of Memri lately, a group whose 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".

I suspect it's too good to be true. Their choices of articles are highly selective, and almost always chosen to make Arabs and Muslims look as bad as possible. They have almost no information on their web site about who they are, but Brian Whitaker, a Guardian columnist, used search engine archives to view old pages.

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

Evidence from Memri's website also casts doubt on its non-partisan status. Besides supporting liberal democracy, civil society, and the free market, the institute also emphasises "the continuing relevance of Zionism to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel".

That is what its website used to say, but the words about Zionism have now been deleted. The original page, however, can still be found in internet archives.

The reason for Memri's air of secrecy becomes clearer when we look at the people behind it. The co-founder and president of Memri, and the registered owner of its website, is an Israeli called Yigal Carmon.

Mr - or rather, Colonel - Carmon spent 22 years in Israeli military intelligence and later served as counter-terrorism adviser to two Israeli prime ministers, Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin.

Retrieving another now-deleted page from the archives of Memri's website also throws up a list of its staff. Of the six people named, three - including Col Carmon - are described as having worked for Israeli intelligence.

Col Carmon's co-founder at Memri is Meyrav Wurmser, who is also director of the centre for Middle East policy at the Indianapolis-based Hudson Institute, which bills itself as "America's premier source of applied research on enduring policy challenges".

The ubiquitous Richard Perle, chairman of the Pentagon's defence policy board, recently joined Hudson's board of trustees.

Ms Wurmser is the author of an academic paper entitled Can Israel Survive Post-Zionism? in which she argues that leftwing Israeli intellectuals pose "more than a passing threat" to the state of Israel, undermining its soul and reducing its will for self-defence.

Definitely not possible that Arabs are just out there spouting hate speech in their mosques and newspapers, is it?

Especially considering the things that they say in English are so calming and pleasant and pro-Israel, pro-Zionism, pro-Jew, and they don't obfuscate questions at all with things like "well, there's no proof that it was Saudi's on the planes that smacked into the WTC in spite of the Saudi government admitting it, instead, it was Mossad."

Well, the owner of the site _is_ an Israeli. He must, by implication, not be trusted. Al Guardian is one of the most debased anti-semetic papers out there. Memri may not be perfect, but from what I gather, their translations are coming from the United States Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS).

Memri is imperfect. The Guardian is avowedly anti-Israel. Do the math.

I'm concerned (if not offended) that you seem to think that I'm a "knee-jerk" anti-Israel person. I reject the idea that to oppose the policies of Israel's government, and the behavior of the settlers, in the Occupied Territories, is to be anti-Israel. I am lucky enough to have a number of Israeli friends (living in Israel or NYC) who consider the occupation to be a criminal act, and think of Sharon as a monster.

I'm not about to argue that there isn't a lot of ugly stuff coming out of Arab media -- that wasn't really my point. I don't believe though that what's coming out of Memri is the only thing being said in Arab media, given the stuff I get from Arab friends living in this country. Increasingly though, the mosque and radical Islam are the only "approved" outlets for dissent in Arab countries, and the U.S. is allowing that to happen. Egypt just sentenced an elderly, frail, democracy activist to 7 years of hard labor for promoting democracy. We give them $2 billion a year and aren't protesting. (See the Friedman column.)

I am not about to say that an Israeli, by implication is not to be trusted. I will say that I do not trust Richard Perle or people like Meyrav Wurmser who believe that left-wing intellectuals are what will lead to the destruction of Israel. I think a brutal occupation of an entire population is destroying Israel's ethics and democracy.

Oops - I forgot to add one thing. I don't think history looks too kindly on people that think being supportive of one's country means thinking its government is always right. I'm pretty happy to VERY opposed to almost everything my elected officials have done in the last few years.

Patriotism, particulary the American kind, is about questioning government, not blindly following it -- at least it was until Bush, Ashcroft, and 9/11 appeared on the scene.

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Published on August 12, 2002 9:14 PM.

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