• Reports
  • March 28, 2006
  • 5 minutes read

Speakout: MEMRI’s Systematic Distortions

As soon as the word came out regarding the upcoming visit to Denver of Dr. Ekrima Sabri, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League sprang into action to disrupt the visit. Both groups immediately sent letters accusing the Grand Mufti of being anti-Semitic and asking co-sponsors to withdraw their support. A press release was sent to the media denouncing the visit. The finishing touches were in News columns by Vincent Carroll (March 7) and Dave Kopel (March 11) that simply seconded the pro-Israeli lobby sentiment. All of their “evidence” seemed to be a regurgitation of the same quotes and accusations. This leads me to suppose that the critics either carbon-copied each other’s statements or that they acquired most of their “translation” from one special source: The Middle East Media Research Institute.
MEMRI claims to be an independent nonpartisan research institution. One of the co-founders of the organization, Yigal Carmon, is a retired Israeli military intelligence Colonel. Checking the MEMRI website, I found it served up blatant, unbalanced propaganda and was littered with inflammatory articles aimed to incite hate and bigotry toward any person whom MEMRI considers anti-Israeli or anti-Zionist.

Academics as well as professional journalists have repeatedly censured the organization’s quality and integrity. Brian Whitaker of the Guardian questioned the honesty of some “translations” posted by MEMRI. Whitaker, specifically, referred to an interview with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Sheikh Ekrima Sabri by Al-Ahram Al-Arabi in Oct. 2000 – the same interview quoted by the ADL, the AJC and Carroll.

Al-Ahram: Q: How do you deal with the Jews who are besieging al-Aqsa and are scattered around it?

A: I enter the mosque of Al-Aqsa with my head up. . .I have never greeted them when I came near one. I never will.

MEMRI’s version: Q: How do you feel about the Jews?

A: 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.

It is worthy to note that Carmon has admitted this “translation” mistake. Still, it remains uncorrected on his website.

In another instance, Halim Barakat (no relation), a professor at Georgetown University, published an article in Al-Hayat Daily of London titled “The wild beast that Zionism created: Self-destruction.” By the time MEMRI “translated” it, the title was distorted to “Jews have lost their humanity.” Barakat objected, “Every time I wrote Zionism, MEMRI replaced the word by Jew or Judaism. They want to give the impression that I’m not criticizing Israeli policy, but that what I’m saying is anti-Semitic.” It seems obvious that MEMRI is adamant on stigmatizing anyone who criticizes Israel and/or Zionism as being anti Jewish.

Similar conclusions were echoed in the January 2005 Greater London Authority report. A study was commissioned to investigate the “Islamic conspiracy dossier.” This dossier was compiled to defame a renowned Muslim scholar and was presented to British officials in an attempt to prevent a renowned Muslim scholar, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, from entering Britain to participate in a London conference. The report found that “nearly all the distortions came from material produced by the Middle East Research Institute.”

Today, the standards of Israeli-Palestinian political and religious discussions have been redefined by pro-Israeli organizations that are working amongst us. If non-Jews voice disagreement with Zionist ideology or expressed moral outrage against Israeli oppressive policies, they are immediately accused of being anti-Semitic and /or anti-Jewish. If one happens to be Jewish, one is branded as being “fringe” or a “self-hating” Jew.

The continuous attempts of the AJC and the ADL to hinder frank academic discussions pertaining to Israeli government policies may further undermine their credibility. Last October, pro-Israeli organizations tried to interfere with the Friends of Sabeel conference in Denver. Priests and academics were, again, accused of being anti-Semitic or “fringe” Jews. Co-sponsors were asked to withdraw. Among the 70-plus co-sponsors, nobody withdrew.

Sabri’s visit offered the opportunity for Christians representing many denominations,who gathered recently, alongside their Muslim brethren, to hear his message. He told us that his “Hands are extended with love and peace” and so should ours be.

We pray and hope that political negativity and Islamophobic stands would not cause the local Muslim-Jewish communities to miss future opportunities to foster greater mutual understandings.

Rima Barakat is a Denver-area Muslim activist.