State Department beneficiary, MEMRI, is dedicated to bringing Israeli ideas about Arab world and Iran into U.S. establishment

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Yesterday’s $200,000 grant from the State Department to the Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI, whose boards are loaded with Bush-era neocons, including Elliott Abrams, John Bolton and Bernard Lewis, is shocking news. Some developments:

The shop is is run by Yigal Carmon, who had a long career in Israeli intelligence. Ali Gharib at Think Progress adds this information:

The organization was founded as a U.S. tax-exempt non-profit in 1998 by now-Hudson Institute Mideast policy chief Meyrav Wurmser, an Israeli-American [married to former Bush adviser David Wurmser], and current MEMRI president, Israeli Yigal Carmon, a 20-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces (where he spent five years running Israel’s occupation of the West Bank) and top adviser to two Likud governments. An early archived version of the “about page” of MEMRI’s website lists five staff members, three of whom (including Carmon) have backgrounds in Israeli military intelligence. The same page lists one of MEMRI’s missions as “emphasiz(ing) the continuing relevance of Zionism to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel” — though the line has since disappeared from the website.

The grant is one more step toward what a friend calls “the Israelification of US govt information and intelligence.” See this from MEMRI’s Anti-Terrorism page, emphasizing the Arab world and Iran…

MEMRI’s Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM) scrutinizes Islamist terrorism worldwide, with a special focus on the Arab world, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. …

Or this unreconstructed neoconservative cant:

MEMRI’s work directly supports fighting the U.S. War on Terror. Highly trained staff thoroughly translate and analyze open-source materials that include television programming, radio, newspapers, textbooks, and websites.

Every single day, MEMRI receives requests from members of the U.S. government, military, and legislature. Since September 11, 2001, the demand for this material has significantly increased – providing thousands of pages of translated documents of Arab, Iranian, Urdu, Pashtu, Hindi, Dari, and Turkish print media, terrorist websites, school books, and tens of thousands of hours of translated footage from Arab and Iranian television.

The grant is a political gesture. It cannot be separated from the large role of conservative Jewish money in our political process and the necessity of signalling to those donors that the Obama administration is down with the pro-Israel program.

As Scott McConnell wrote last year, the “special relationship” between Israel and the U.S.

is at bottom a transmission belt, conveying Israeli ideas on how the United States should conduct itself in a contested and volatile part of the world. To a great extent, a receptive American political class now views the Middle East and their country’s role in it through Israel’s eyes.

Thus the grant is of a piece with: 1, 20 percent of Congress is going to Israel for the summer recess, 2, the leading Middle East policy-maker in the Obama administration is Dennis Ross, who lately headed a Jerusalem thinktank dedicated to the future of the Jewish people, 3, the leader of our Iran policy under Obama was a neocon holdover from the Bush administration who was a friend of AIPAC, and his replacement is his former law partner.

All these facts are stunning. Yet they are not really touched by the mainstream media, which goes to show that the Israel lobby is still a live force inside the establishment, though it faces inevitable collapse given the grassroots and historical forces working to undermine it.

Oh and Gharib hits the anti-semitism focus.

Finding examples of anti-Semitism is already a robust MEMRI project and one wonders why exactly they needed the cash: According to publicly available tax filings, MEMRI had nearly $5 million in revenue in 2007 and more than $4.5 million in revenue in 2008.

What’s more troubling, MEMRI has faced accusations of mistranslating items and cherry-picking incendiary sources to portray regional media and attitudes in an overly-negative fashion. ….MEMRI has been accused of twisting translations to portray criticisms of Israel and its driving ideology, Zionism, as anti-Semitic. In 2006, Rima Barakat, a Palestinian and Muslim activist and one-time Republican candidate for the Colorado state assembly, wrote in the Rocky Mountain News:

“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.

In a 2002 article, then-Middle East editor of the British Guardian newspaper Brian Whitaker criticized MEMRI for inaccuracies that reflected an agenda:

“As far as relations between the west and the Arab world are concerned, language is a barrier that perpetuates ignorance and can easily foster misunderstanding.

“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.”

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