Memri responds to the Guardian

August 27, 2002

“SELECTIVE WHITAKER”

[Note by Tom Gross]

As a follow-up to my previous dispatch (The Guardian attacks Memri, August 13, 2002), I attach by Memri’s president, Yigal Carmon, “Media organisation rebuts accusations of selective journalism” (The Guardian, August 21, 2002).

In his piece Carmon asks does “Whitaker read the Arab press at all?”

But it certainly appears that he does. While Whitaker spent 1,700 words (about twice the length of a standard Guardian op-ed) attacking Memri as a “mysterious organization” with an “air of secrecy,” he forgot to tell Guardian readers that in addition to his work as Middle East editor of The Guardian, Whitaker also runs an anti-Israel website called Arab Gateway (http://www.al-bab.com). Among other things, Whitaker’s site has pages about non-Arab minorities in the Middle East, such as Berbers and Kurds – but no page on Jews. And Whitaker’s site has a “Palestine” section but no “Israel” section. I attach extracts from an HonestReporting.com dispatch (August 15, 2002) covering this. This was also reported on previously in The Wall Street Journal online.

-- Tom Gross



FULL ARTICLES

“AN EXAMPLE OF SELECTIVE JOURNALISM”

Media organisation rebuts accusations of selective journalism
A Guardian Unlimited article recently questioned the neutrality of a US-based institute that translates articles from Arabic newspapers. Here, the institute’s president responds
By Yigal Carmon
The Guardian
August 21, 2002

Brian Whitaker’s Selective Memri is an example of selective journalism.

Disregarding the Guardian’s own code – “A newspaper’s primary office is the gathering of news” – Whitaker has simply recycled inaccurate and previously published material.

Two days before his piece appeared on the web, he called our Washington office to ask for the Arabic original of an article translated by Memri from the London daily Al-Hayat. He could have used this opportunity to check his facts. He chose not to do so.

To start with, Memri is not a “mysterious organisation”. Our telephone number, fax and email appear on every dispatch. True, the office address is no longer posted on our website. Whitaker may scoff, but we have received threats from rightwing radicals in America.

Had he asked, we would have provided him with our addresses in Washington, London, Berlin, Moscow and Jerusalem (as well as informing him that I retired from government office almost a decade ago).

We could also have told Whitaker that we have over 30 employees of different nationalities, rather than six. But then, facts might have got in the way of a “good story”.

Memri is involved in a variety of projects, apart from translating material into most European languages and Turkish: an economic project, headed by a former World Bank expert, an Arab anti-Semitism documentation project, studies of school books from Arab educational systems, monitoring Friday sermons in the Arab world.

Most important and innovative is our reform project, which highlights liberal voices, not only from western capitals, but also from within the Arab and Muslim world, courageously calling for political, religious, social and economic reform, and taking all the risks involved.

Is this “Selective Memri”? No, it’s Selective Whitaker. He cites the Memri-translated “Blood Libel” – an article that resurrected an ancient myth that accuses Jews of using the blood of (non-Jewish) children to make a special pastry for the Purim religious festival – published by the Saudi al-Riyadh daily.

This is a paper which, contrary to Whitaker’s statement, is identified as government-controlled by the Saudi government’s website, by the BBC and by news agencies such as Associated Press.

It is true that the editor later apologised and the columnist was sacked. Memri reported all this, giving the paper credit even though these events came in the wake of severe US criticism.

Whitaker implies that this was a marginal case – another article deliberately “selected” by Memri that merely reflects the “ignorance of many Arabs – even those [as] highly educated” as the author of the piece – a university teacher.

Does Brian Whitaker still think it mere ignorance when the major Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram follows a similar line? The government-appointed editor-in-chief is currently facing prosecution in France (and possible prosecution in the UK) for incitement to anti-Semitism and racial violence.

The editor is prepared to do battle over his right to spread this poison and he is supported by most of Egypt’s literary elite, parliamentarians, trades unions and various organisations throughout the Arab world.

Surely the Guardian’s editorial board would agree that this goes far beyond ignorance. It is the deliberate dissemination of a Blood Libel.

Another supposedly marginal issue “selected” by Memri is the Ode to Terrorism by the Saudi Ambassador to the UK, Ghazi Al-Qusaybi. Were Whitaker a regular reader of the Arab papers published in London, he would know that it is not a matter of poetry.

Al-Qusaybi has authored several articles expressing the same political position (Memri Dispatches 251, 256, 389 at www.memri.org). Indeed, does Whitaker read the Arab press at all? Or does he rely on Arab Media Watch?

If this is the case, we could provide him with some documentation on their bias. In any event, I wouldn’t blame him for seeking assistance. Monitoring the Arab media is far too much for one person to handle. We have a team of 20 translators doing it, and we can’t possibly cover it all.

Whitaker’s view of Memri’s work is not shared by others. In fact most of the well-known media in the US respect and frequently quote Memri, for example the New York Times, Washington Post, New Republic, The New Yorker, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and Miami Herald.

The Guardian itself published Thomas Friedman’s column (October 16 2001) commending Memri translations. The Qatari Al-Jazeera television channel also trusts Memri and frequently asks me to appear on their programmes.

Even the Palestinian National Authority website has posted our material – with attribution. On the other hand, it is interesting to see whom Whitaker did choose to quote to back up his allegations against Memri. Ibrahim Hooper is the spokesman of CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations, which supports Hamas.

 

“… WHITAKER ALSO RUNS THE ANTI-ISRAEL WEBSITE ARAB GATEWAY…”

Extracts from HonestReporting.com dispatch
August 15, 2002

Also this week, the Guardian’s Middle East editor, Brian Whitaker, authored a piece entitled “Selective Memri” (August 12). He article is an attack on Memri, the Middle East Media Research Institute (http://www.memri.org), which provides translations of articles and speeches from various Arabic sources.

In his attack, Whitaker acknowledges that “nobody, so far as I know, disputes the general accuracy of Memri’s translations.”

So what’s the problem?

For starters, Whitaker quotes Ibraham Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who complains that Memri depicts the Muslim world in a bad light. Hardly a valid criticism, considering that Memri merely translates the Arabic media!

Whitaker also denounces Memri for employing three former members of Israeli intelligence. What Whitaker doesn’t tell us is that Memri’s founder, Colonel Yigal Carmon, and most of his young staff, are on the left wing of the Israeli political spectrum. Carmon was an advisor to the late Yitzhak Rabin and is a supporter of territorial compromise.

Whitaker scoffs at the fact that the names of Memri’s staff and office address were removed from their website due to concern of attack by Arab extremists. Whitaker calls this an “over-the-top precaution.” One wonders if the Guardian would consider itself “over-the-top” for taking such precautions to protect its own staff from violence.

Read the article at:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/elsewhere/journalist/story/0,7792,773258,00.html

Most surprising of all is that while Whitaker spends 1,700 words attacking Memri as a “mysterious organization” and its “air of secrecy,” he has forgotten to tell Guardian readers of his own secrets. For in addition to his work as Middle East editor of The Guardian, Whitaker also runs the anti-Israel, website Arab Gateway (http://www.al-bab.com).

Arab Gateway lists viciously anti-Israel “associate sites,” such as that of the spuriously-named “Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding” (http://www.caabu.org).

Whitaker’s site has pages about non-Arab minorities in the Middle East, such as Berbers and Kurds – but no page on Jews. The site’s section on “maps” lists a “country map of Palestine” (we didn’t know Palestine was a country), but upon clicking the link it takes you to a file at the Univ.of Texas archives with a slightly different name: “israel_map.jpg”.

See a beaming photo of Whitaker on the “about” page of Arab Gateway at
http://www.al-bab.com/arab/about.htm.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.