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[infowar.de] Internetdienst Memri: Übersetzung als Instrument im Nahostkonflikt
 =DCbersetzung als Instrument im Nahostkonflikt
 Email debate: Yigal Carmon and Brian Whitaker
 Selective Memri
=DCbersetzung als Instrument im Nahostkonflikt
Dokumente des Hasses
Armin K=F6hli, WOZ, 6.2.2003
Der Internetdienst Memri beliefert internationale Medien gratis mit
=DCbersetzungen aus der arabischen Presse. Doch der Hintergrund Memris ist
Endlich w=FCrden die sprachlichen Barrieren zwischen der arabischen Welt und
dem Westen =FCberwunden, verheisst das Middle East Media and Research
Institute (Memri). Memri bietet auf seiner Website umfangreiche
=DCbersetzungen aus arabischen Medien an. Memri arbeitet mit Erfolg: Der
elektronische Memri-Newsletter erreicht JournalistInnen wie PolitikerInnen
zu tausenden. Und auf der Memri-Website steht auch eine laufend
aktualisierte, eindr=FCckliche Liste der englischsprachigen Medien, die aus
Memri-=DCbersetzungen zitieren: CNN, =ABNew Statesman=BB, =ABNewsweek=BB,=
Today=BB, =ABNew York Times=BB und so weiter.
Doch Memri ist nicht ein neutrales =DCbersetzungsb=FCro oder, wie der Name
suggeriert, ein universit=E4res Institut. Brian Whitaker vom britischen
=ABGuardian=BB untersuchte die Organisation genauer: 1998 gr=FCndete Yigal=
(vgl. Kasten) den Dienst. Memri, mit Sitz in Washington, habe den Status
einer =ABunabh=E4ngigen, =FCberparteilichen und gemeinn=FCtzigen=BB=
Spenden an Memri seien in den USA also von der Steuer absetzbar. Memri
erw=E4hnt im Internet aber nur eine Postfachadresse, und Namen von
MitarbeiterInnen werden nicht genannt, angeblich aus Sicherheitsgr=FCnden.
Doch der =ABGuardian=BB hat auf einer gel=F6schten Seite von Memris
Internetauftritt eine Mitarbeiterliste ausfindig gemacht: =ABZu drei von den
sechs dort aufgef=FChrten Personen =AD einschliesslich Oberst Carmon =AD=
angegeben, dass sie f=FCr den israelischen Geheimdienst gearbeitet haben.=
den =FCbrigen drei Mitarbeitern hat einer im Material- und Logistikcorps des
Oberkommandos Nord der israelischen Armee Dienst getan, ein weiterer hat
einen akademischen Hintergrund, und der sechste ist Alleinunterhalter und
Kabarettist.=BB Mitbegr=FCnderin vom Memri ist Meyrav Wurmser. Sie geh=F6rt=
Umfeld von Richard Perle, einem der sch=E4rfsten Kriegstreiber der=
Auslassungen l=F6sen Fehler ab
Zum ersten Mal stiess ich im Februar 2001 auf Memri. Im deutschen
Monatsblatt =ABKonkret=BB, das zur antiarabischen, deutschzentristischen
=ABantideutschen=BB Linken geh=F6rt, tauchten pl=F6tzlich Zitate aus=
Quellen auf. Weil die =ABantideutschen=BB Medien bis dahin nicht mit
Arabischkenntnissen brillierten, begann ich mich f=FCr die Herkunft der
Zitate zu interessieren. Ein, zwei Clicks bei Google, und da war die Seite
memri.org mit der englischen Original=FCbersetzung der Zitate. =ABKonkret=BB
zitierte aus einem Interview der =E4gyptischen Zeitung =ABal-Ahram al-arabi=
mit =ABdem Mufti von Jerusalem und Pal=E4stina=BB. Dieses Interview liess=
=FCberpr=FCfen, denn =ABAl-Ahram al-arabi=BB stellt seine Artikel ins=
Memri-=DCbersetzung war in einem Punkt grob sinnentstellend: =ABHow do you=
about the Jews?=BB (=ABWas halten Sie von den Juden?=BB), sei der Mufti=
worden, und seine Antwort f=E4llt zutiefst rassistisch aus. Tats=E4chlich
lautete die Frage in Arabisch: =ABWie begegnen Sie den Juden, die die
Al-Aksa-Moschee belagern und dort herumstehen?=BB Die Frage galt also den
israelischen Grenzpolizisten im besetzten Ostjerusalem, deren Kontrolle der
Mufti beim Gang zur Moschee passieren muss, und nicht =ABden Juden=BB.
Die Qualit=E4t der =DCbersetzungen scheint sich seither gebessert zu haben,
auch wenn Whitaker weitere Fehler nachweist. Solch plumpe, =FCberpr=FCfbare
F=E4lschungen beziehungsweise =DCbersetzungsfehler gef=E4hrden die
Glaubw=FCrdigkeit Memris. Dabei l=E4sst sich die =F6ffentliche Meinung durch=
Auswahl der =FCbersetzten Texte viel wirkungsvoller beeinflussen (wobei sich
viele Quellen vom Westen aus nicht =FCberpr=FCfen lassen). Memris Selektion
zielt offensichtlich darauf, einen tiefen arabischen Hass auf Juden und
J=FCdinnen zu dokumentieren. Keine Frage: Solche Stimmen existieren in der
arabischen Welt in nicht geringer Zahl, viele AraberInnen verrennen sich ob
ihrer Verzweiflung an der politischen und wirtschaftlichen Lage im Nahen
Osten in rassistische Ideologie. Doch das selektive Zitieren nur solcher
Stimmen ergibt ein verf=E4lschtes Bild. Etwa so verzerrt, wie wenn aus der
Schweiz nur Zeitungen mit dem ideologischen Horizont von =ABWeltwoche=BB,
=ABSchweizerzeit=BB und =ABNZZ am Sonntag=BB zitiert w=FCrden.
Kritische Schweizer Medien
An ein Beispiel von Memris Erfolgen m=F6gen sich wohl auch Schweizer
LeserInnen erinnern: Der saudische Botschafter in London schrieb ein
Gedicht =FCber eine junge Selbstmordattent=E4terin. Memri =FCbersetzte=
des Textes als =ABLoblied auf Selbstmordattent=E4ter=BB. So ging das Gedicht
durch die westliche Welt. Brian Whitaker hingegen interpretiert den Text
eher als Protest gegen die Ineffizienz f=FChrender arabischer Politiker.
Inzwischen hat Memri auch einen deutschsprachigen Dienst aufgebaut, die
Resonanz scheint allerdings noch bescheiden. In der Schweiz beschr=E4nken
sich die Spuren Memris, soweit =FCberblickbar, auf Leserbriefe und einige
Zitate in Westschweizer Zeitungen wie =ABLe Temps=BB, die offensichtlich aus
englischsprachigen Medien =FCbernommen wurden. Schweizer JournalistInnen
scheinen der Arbeit Memris skeptisch gegen=FCberzustehen. Die NZZ warnte
sogar ziemlich unverhohlen vor Memri: F=FCr einen repr=E4sentativen=
seien zus=E4tzliche Dienste unerl=E4sslich.
Email debate: Yigal Carmon and Brian Whitaker
An article on Guardian Unlimited last year by Middle East editor Brian
Whitaker questioned the impartiality of Memri, an organisation that
translates articles from the Middle Eastern media. We subsequently
published a response by Memri's president Yigal Carmon, in which he
vigorously defended his organisation. What follows is the text of a debate
between the two men conducted subsequently by email. At the end of this
exchange you will find links to the original articles that gave rise to the
The Guardian, January 28, 2003
How does Memri select items for translation? We aim to reflect main trends
of thought and when possible general public opinion. We feature the most
topical issues on the Middle Eastern or international agenda. As you might
expect, we are now publishing articles from the Iraqi media. We also
translate discussions on social issues, such as the status of women in
Egypt (Special Dispatches 392, 393, January 2002) and debates on Al-Jazeera
TV which reach an estimated 60 million viewers. When controversial matters
are aired before such a large audience, Memri does not need to fight shy of
translating their contents.
Are the examples chosen extreme? While some of the topics covered do seem
extreme to the western reader, they are an accurate representation of what
appears in the Arab and Farsi media.
If mainstream papers repeatedly publish the Jewish blood libel; accuse Jews
and Americans of deliberately spreading Aids or the US of dropping
genetically modified foods with the intention of harming people in
Afghanistan (the latter allegation made by no less than the editor in chief
of the most important government daily in Egypt) Memri is entitled to
translate these articles.
There are even more extreme views - like those expressed by most Islamist
organisations - which we rarely translate. Brian Whitaker, however, chooses
to relate to Ibrahaim Hooper, spokesman of the Council on American Islamic
Relations, as referee and includes such organisations on his website.
Does Memri ignore the Israeli media? Memri was founded in l998 and for the
first three years we translated items from the Israel media. However,
almost half of Israel's media is now available in English (the main daily
Ha'aretz; Jerusalem Post; Globes; Jerusalem Report; as well as many
broadcast and private media outlets), so we have cut down our output.
Brian Whitaker appears to feel that holding up a mirror to the Arab world
will reflect badly on them. Moderate and courageous elements in the Middle
East might disagree.
We would have been happy to discuss these issues with Mr Whitaker had he
contacted our Washington or London offices, but now look forward to his
response and to dealing with the other issues he raises.
Taking up your point about the Hebrew media, there's an excellent service
in Jerusalem called Israel News Today. It provides summaries of the
Hebrew-language newspapers and radio bulletins, and translates articles,
too. Foreign journalists working in Israel pay to receive it because it
gives them a fair and balanced picture of what the Israeli media are saying
on the issues of the day.
If Memri did the same sort of thing in relation to the Arab media, I would
have no quarrel. The Guardian and other papers might even pay for the
service so that you wouldn't have to rely on your anonymous benefactors for
My problem with Memri is that it poses as a research institute when it's
basically a propaganda operation. As with all propaganda, that involves a
certain amount of dishonesty and deception. The items you translate are
chosen largely to suit your political agenda. They are unrepresentative and
give an unfair picture of the Arab media as a whole.
This might not be so bad if you told us what your agenda is. But Memri's
website does not mention you or your work for Israeli intelligence. Nor
does it mention Memri's co-founder, Meyrav Wurmser, and her extreme brand
of Zionism which maintains that Israeli leftists are a "threat" to their
own country. Also, you're not averse to a bit of cheating to make Arabs
look more anti-semitic than they are.
In your Special Dispatch 151, for instance, you translated an interview
given by the mufti of Jerusalem to al-Ahram al-Arabi, shortly after the
start of the Palestinian uprising.
One question the interviewer asked was: "How do you deal with the Jews who
are besieging al-Aqsa and are scattered around it?" Memri translated this
as: "How do you feel about the Jews?" - which is a different question. That
left you with a reply in Arabic which didn't fit your newly-concocted
question. So you cut out the first part of the mufti's reply and combined
what was left with part of his answer to another question.
Maybe you weren't personally responsible for that bit of dishonesty, so let
me ask you about a statement you made in your testimony to the US Congress
on April 18.
Citing claims in the Arab media that the September 11 attacks "were the
work of the United States government itself and/or a Jewish conspiracy",
you said: "Recent Gallup polls show a large majority of the Arab world
continue to believe it." Please tell us the dates of those Gallup polls,
the wording of the relevant questions, and their findings.
I am disappointed to see that your reply continues to question points I
have already addressed and that you descend into insulting accusations such
as "cheating, deception, dishonest, unfair, concocted". You offer no
justifications for your quite serious attacks. This not only fails to
enhance the aims of this dialogue but goes against the very condition
required by the Guardian that "the tone [of this debate] should be measured
An example of your superfluous antagonism is the request for details such
as "the dates, wording of the relevant questions and their findings",
regarding the Gallup polls quoted in my testimony to the US Congress. I was
referring to a major project, The 2002 Gallup Poll of the Islamic World,
full details of which are available at www.gallup.com . Harold Evans,
former editor of the Times, wrote recently, "millions and millions believe
this rubbish, as a recent Gallup poll has found". I wonder if you would
have questioned him so closely? You also seem to focus mainly on the
anti-semitic material we cover as if it were the only topic we translate
from Arab media. While it is certainly a notable issue, it constitutes less
than 10% of our output.
To address the points made:
1) Memri is not a news agency or a press review service and, as you noted,
summaries of the Hebrew-language press are readily available. That is
precisely why Memri does not need to duplicate this "excellent service".
2) 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.
3) On checking Special Dispatch 151 (November 2000) we have to admit an
error in translation. The question should indeed have read "How do you deal
with the Jews?" rather than "How do you feel about the Jews?" As for the
claim that we have "cobbled together" one answer from two questions to make
"Arabs look more anti-semitic than they are", the fact is that the
following question referred to the same subject. As we have translated
several hundred items since then, it is perhaps reassuring that you had to
go back so far to find a mistake. I understand that the Guardian is
occasionally subject to errors, so perhaps you will be understanding of
4) As for myself, I make no secret of my past. I appear regularly on
various media outlets, including Al-Jazeera, and my background is always
mentioned. For your part, you omitted the fact that I retired from service
over 10 years ago.
5) Dr Meyrav Wurmser is a distinguished academic, who co-founded Memri but
who left us two and a half years ago. Our staff include people of the
Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths and they hold a range of political=
6) You repeat that our representation of the Arab world is unfair. Can you
give us examples of articles that reflect widespread and topical trends
which we leave out of our translations?
I have no wish to sound uncivil, but Memri has placed itself in a
glasshouse by claiming to represent the views of the Arabic media to the
English-speaking world. Given your political background, it's legitimate to
ask whether Memri is a trustworthy vehicle for such an undertaking. The
evidence suggests it is not. You now concede an error of translation in the
interview with the mufti, but ignore the more serious charge of dishonest
editing. Indeed, you persist in misrepresenting the original Arabic
question, in which the mufti was asked how he dealt with the Jews besieging
Your translator turned this into a question asking how he felt about the
Jews (ie in general). Your "corrected" version, once again, fails to
recognise that in the Arabic text it was not a general question. It was
about a specific group of Jews who were behaving in a hostile manner.
Having misrepresented the original question, you then had to misrepresent
the mufti's answer. There is no excuse for this sort of textual
manipulation, and I can only surmise it was done for political reasons - to
make his remarks look more anti-semitic than they actually were.
More recently, in Special Dispatch 407, you translated a poem from the
Arab-American weekly, al-Watan, likening President Bush to an ape. Anyone
reading your introduction could reasonably assume the poet was an
Arab-American, when in fact the poet is a Palestinian.
The Arabic version made clear he was writing from the West Bank and
included his location - "Ramallah" - immediately after his name. Memri cut
the word "Ramallah" from its translation, enhancing the impression that the
author was Arab-American.
Annoying, dishonest little tweaks like this seem to crop up quite a lot in
Memri's work. Again, the only reason I can see for it is a political one -
in this case to further denigrate Arab-Americans in the eyes of their
This behaviour does Memri's credibility no good, and it means that
journalists who make use of your translations without checking the original
Arabic also put their own reputations at risk.
Checking the original texts can be difficult because of the way you
reference them. Occasionally you provide internet links, but more often you
only cite the publication and the date, without page numbers or headlines.
The first time I tried to look up one of the articles you had translated,
it turned out that you had given the wrong publication date.
Regarding the "Gallup polls", you now admit that there was only one, though
I'm sure the plural sounded more impressive in your evidence to Congress.
But I am still baffled by your claim that this poll, published last
February, found a large majority of Arabs who believed that the September
11 attacks "were the work of the United States government itself and/or a
Gallup's findings are no longer available on their website except to
subscribers, but I have looked at several newspaper reports of the poll and
can find nothing to substantiate your claim. Did you make it up? If not,
please produce the evidence.
Before we move on to discuss Memri's purpose, you may also wish to
reconsider (a) your claim that your background is "always mentioned" when
you figure in the media, and (b) your comments about Israel News Today
which make little sense in relation to what I wrote earlier.
When I asked for an open debate following your attack on Memri, I had hoped
for an exchange of views and facts, rather than a sort of verbal
arm-wrestling. Sadly, you seem unwilling or unable to move forward,
preferring to go to points already answered, using insults rather than
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. You accused us of distortion by omission but when
asked to provide examples of trends and views we have missed, you have
failed to answer. Missing footnotes, use of the plural form, or similar
incidentals - aren't these sidelines to the whole issue? You continually
refer to my supposed "political background" as if I had something to hide,
and I wonder if I am your real target here. As a civil servant and adviser
on counter-terrorism to both Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin, prime
ministers from opposing camps, my role was not a political appointment.
If your complaint is that I am Israeli, then please say so. Is being an
Israeli enough for you to consider me inevitably biased and anti-Arab? I
note your website is "Al-Bab", ("The Gateway" in Arabic). Would I be
justified in concluding that you are not, in fact, completely neutral about
the Middle East, even though you are Middle East editor of a national
newspaper? I wonder how you would judge an editor whose website was called
"Ha-Sha-ar" ("The Gateway" in Hebrew)? I am the one to be "baffled" by your
quibbles over the Gallup polls singular or plural. Gallup interviewed
10,000 people in depth and continues to update its surveys. If you find it
easier to accuse Memri of "making it up" than for your newspaper to fork
out $90 [=A355] to access valuable information, then I am sorry you aren't
taking this debate more seriously - or courteously.
As one who has been invited to give testimony before the US Congress on a
number of occasions, I have no need to "impress" them, and certainly no
cause to change or embellish evidence.
I am even more "baffled" that you apparently fail to acknowledge the
widespread belief in the Arab world that the US itself and/or the Jews
perpetrated the 9/11 attacks. A wealth of evidence of such belief is freely
available as this issue has been discussed throughout the world, from the
New York Times to Al-Jazeera and from the Hindustani Times to Al Riyadh.
Regarding Special Dispatch 407, we felt the important issue was the fact
that Al-Watan, which defines itself as a "national weekly Arab-American
newspaper" and appears in four major US cities, chose to publish poems such
as " Yes, I am a Terrorist" and "Bush is an Ape". The identity of the poets
was not the point. You have accused Memri of altering a text and so "making
his (the mufti's) words look more anti-semitic than they actually were".
We have already addressed your comments about the interviewer's questions.
However, let's look at the substance. The mufti of Jerusalem enthuses about
"martyrs" who kill Israelis. "The younger the martyr - the greater and the
more I respect him" he says, adding "I talked to a young man (who) said 'I
want to marry the black-eyed (beautiful) women of heaven.' The next day he
became a martyr. I am sure his mother was filled with joy." In the same
article, this spiritual leader remarks: "I am filled with rage toward the
Jews. I have never greeted a Jew when I came near one. I never will. They
cannot even dream that I will. The Jews do not dare to bother me, because
they are the most cowardly creatures Allah has ever created." (Special
Dispatch 151, 9 November 2000)
This same grand mufti, Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, interviewed in La Repubblica
(March 24 2000 - "Too many lies about the Holocaust, Wojtyla free us from
the Jews"), opined "Six million Jews dead? No way, there were much fewer.
Let's stop with this fairytale exploited by Israel to capture international
solidarity. It is not my fault if Hitler hated Jews."
As I write, a soap opera based on the hoax "the protocols of the elders of
Zion" is about to be screened for Ramadan on Egyptian, Iraqi and Hizbullah
television channels, and a book by Mustafa Tlass (Syria's minister of
defence), which treats the infamous 1840 Damascus blood libel as history,
is selling well. With facts like these, any attempt on our part to exceed
our brief as translators is completely unnecessary.
I agree entirely that any attempt to exceed your brief as translators is
unnecessary. So why do you do it?
I would readily put it down to incompetence or carelessness - except that
the tweaks, cuts and mistranslations always seem to point in the same
I won't introduce more examples now, since we're at the end of this debate
and no closer to a proper explanation of those I've raised already. You
still haven't explained why you saw fit to mutilate the mufti's interview
instead of just translating it. His views on the Holocaust do not give you
a licence to misrepresent what he says.
You appear to think this is a trivial matter, but it goes to the heart of
Memri's credibility. On any self-respecting newspaper, a reporter who
messed about with other people's words like that would be in serious
trouble. Again, with your translation of al-Watan's poem, you offer no
explanation as to why the only word omitted, between the title and the last
line, was the word that identified the poet as a Palestinian rather than an
You say the poet's identity was not the point, but in the context it was
Once again, I must return to the deeply troubling question of the Gallup
poll - which you shrug off with a facetious suggestion about spending $90
on the report.
The fact is that you gave evidence to Congress claiming that Gallup had
found "a large majority of the Arab world" who believed the September 11
attacks "were the work of the United States government itself and/or a
Jewish conspiracy". What you said is untrue, and Gallup has confirmed that.
I trust you will now apologise to Congress for your false testimony.
Finally, in the light of your most recent remarks about me personally, I
will make clear now that your nationality and religion do not bother me in
the slightest. What does concern me is your political agenda, and the
deceitful way you go about promoting it.
Brian Whitaker investigates whether the 'independent' media institute that
translates the Arabic newspapers is quite what it seems
Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, August 12, 2002
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 organisation 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 subsidised by US taxpayers because as an "independent,
non-partisan, non-profit" organisation, it has tax-deductible status under
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 organisation. Its website does not give the names
of any people to contact, not even an office address.
The reason for this secrecy, according to a former employee, is that "they
don't want suicide bombers walking through the door on Monday morning"
(Washington Times, June 20).
This strikes me as a somewhat over-the-top precaution for an institute that
simply wants to break down east-west language barriers.
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.
Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations told the
Washington Times: "Memri's intent is to find the worst possible quotes from
the Muslim world and disseminate them as widely as possible."
Memri might, of course, argue that it is seeking to encourage moderation by
highlighting the blatant examples of intolerance and extremism. But if so,
one would expect it - for the sake of non-partisanship - t o publicise
extremist articles in the Hebrew media too.
Although Memri claims that it does provide translations from Hebrew media,
I can't recall receiving any.
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
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
Among the other three, one served in the Israeli army's Northern Command
Ordnance Corps, one has an academic background, and the sixth is a former
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.
In addition, Ms Wurmser is a highly qualified, internationally recognised,
inspiring and knowledgeable speaker on the Middle East whose presence would
make any "event, radio or television show a unique one" - according to
Benador Associates, a public relations company which touts her services.
Nobody, so far as I know, disputes the general accuracy of Memri's
translations but there are other reasons to be concerned about its output.
The email it circulated last week about Saddam Hussein ordering people's
ears to be cut off was an extract from a longer article in the pan-Arab
newspaper, al-Hayat, by Adil Awadh who claimed to have first-hand knowledge
It was the sort of tale about Iraqi brutality that newspapers would happily
reprint without checking, especially in the current atmosphere of war
fever. It may well be true, but it needs to be treated with a little
Mr Awadh is not exactly an independent figure. He is, or at least was, a
member of the Iraqi National Accord, an exiled Iraqi opposition group
backed by the US - and neither al-Hayat nor Memri mentioned this.
Also, Mr Awadh's allegation first came to light some four years ago, when
he had a strong personal reason for making it. According to a Washington
Post report in 1998, the amputation claim formed part of his application
for political asylum in the United States.
At the time, he was one of six Iraqis under arrest in the US as suspected
terrorists or Iraqi intelligence agents, and he was trying to show that the
Americans had made a mistake.
Earlier this year, Memri scored two significant propaganda successes
against Saudi Arabia. The first was its translation of an article from
al-Riyadh newspaper in which a columnist wrote that Jews use the blood of
Christian or Muslim children in pastries for the Purim religious festival.
The writer, a university teacher, was apparently relying on an anti-semitic
myth that dates back to the middle ages. What this demonstrated, more than
anything, was the ignorance of many Arabs - even those highly educated -
about Judaism and Israel, and their readiness to believe such ridiculous
But Memri claimed al-Riyadh was a Saudi "government newspaper" - in fact
it's privately owned - implying that the article had some form of official
Al-Riyadh's editor said he had not seen the article before publication
because he had been abroad. He apologised without hesitation and sacked his
columnist, but by then the damage had been done.
Memri's next success came a month later when Saudi Arabia's ambassador to
London wrote a poem entitled The Martyrs - about a young woman suicide
bomber - which was published in al-Hayat newspaper.
Memri sent out translated extracts from the poem, which it described as
"praising suicide bombers". Whether that was the poem's real message is a
matter of interpretation. It could, perhaps more plausibly, be read as
condemning the political ineffectiveness of Arab leaders, but Memri's
interpretation was reported, almost without question, by the western media.
These incidents involving Saudi Arabia should not be viewed in isolation.
They are part of building a case against the kingdom and persuading the
United States to treat it as an enemy, rather than an ally.
It's a campaign that the Israeli government and American neo-conservatives
have been pushing since early this year - one aspect of which was the
bizarre anti-Saudi briefing at the Pentagon, hosted last month by Richard
To anyone who reads Arabic newspapers regularly, it should be obvious that
the items highlighted by Memri are those that suit its agenda and are not
representative of the newspapers' content as a whole.
The danger is that many of the senators, congressmen and "opinion formers"
who don't read Arabic but receive Memri's emails may get the idea that
these extreme examples are not only truly representative but also reflect
the policies of Arab governments.
Memri's Col Carmon seems eager to encourage them in that belief. In
Washington last April, in testimony to the House committee on international
relations, he portrayed the Arab media as part of a wide-scale system of
"The controlled media of the Arab governments conveys hatred of the west,
and in particular, of the United States," he said. "Prior to September 11,
one could frequently find articles which openly supported, or even called
for, terrorist attacks against the United States ...
"The United States is sometimes compared to Nazi Germany, President Bush to
Hitler, Guantanamo to Auschwitz," he said.
In the case of the al-Jazeera satellite channel, he added, "the
overwhelming majority of guests and callers are typically anti-American and
Unfortunately, it is on the basis of such sweeping generalisations that
much of American foreign policy is built these days.
As far as relations between the west and the Arab world are concerned,
language is a barrier that perpetuates ignorance and can easily foster
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.
It is not difficult to see what Arabs might do to counter that. A group of
Arab media companies could get together and publish translations of
articles that more accurately reflect the content of their newspapers.
It would certainly not be beyond their means. But, as usual, they may
prefer to sit back and grumble about the machinations of Israeli
The following correction was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and
Clarifications column, Wednesday August 21 2002
In an article headed Atrocity stories regain currency, page 13, August 8,
and in an article headed Selective Memri on the Guardian website, we
referred to Dr Adil Awadh, an Iraqi doctor who alleged that Saddam Hussein
had ordered doctors to amputate the ears of soldiers who deserted. Dr Awadh
has asked us to make it clear that he has no connection with Memri (Middle
East Media Research Institute), and that he did not authorise its
translation of parts of an article by him. He is no longer a member of the
Iraqi National Accord (INA). He is an independent member of the Iraqi
National Congress (INC). His reference to orders by Saddam Hussein to cut
off the ears of deserters has been supported by evidence from other sources.
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