MEMRI was co-founded in 1998 by Yigal Carmon and Meyrav Wurmser. MEMRI has an established reputation for distributing highly selective, distorted, and inaccurate translations of Arabic and Persian media. Through these selections the organization attempts to portray Muslims and Arabs as being inherently irrational and violent. The Middle East Media Research Institute is part of the inner core of the U.S. Islamophobia network.
According to Vincent Cannistraro, former Chief of Operations and Analysis at the Central Intelligence Agency's Counterterrorist Center, “MEMRI is selective and acts as a propagandist for a political point of view which follows the extreme right of the Likud.”
Similarly, Brian Whitaker, former Middle East editor (2000-2007) for The Guardian newspaper, MEMRI “poses as a research institute when it’s basically a propaganda operation,” and goes on to say that the items it translates are chosen largely suited to its political agenda, and “are unrepresentative and give an unfair picture of the Middle Eastern media as a whole.”
Whitaker’s 2007, Guardian article, “Arabic Under Fire: A child on Hamas TV talked of annihilating the Jews … or did she?” is a well-known example of MEMRI producing inaccurate translations of Arab media that purposefully misrepresents the reality of the situation.
According to Whitaker, in a Hamas video clip distributed by MEMRI, the host of a children’s television show, dressed as a costumed character, asks a young girl “What she will do for the sake of al-Aqsa?” to which the girl responds “I’m going to draw a picture.” Instead, MEMRI’s quotes the girl as stating “I’ll shoot.” Next, the host asks, “What are we going to do?” to which the girl responds “We’re going [or want] to resist.” Instead, MEMRI quotes the girl as stating, “We want to fight.” The host continues and asks, “What then?” to which the girl responds, “The Jews will shoot us” or “The Jews are shooting at us.” However, MEMRI quotes the girl as stating, "We will annihilate the Jews."
CNN’s Arabic department also found “massive problems” with MEMRI’s translation of the program.
In 2000, MEMRI produced an inaccurate translation of an interview provided by Sheikh Ekrima Sa'id Sabri, the former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine (1994-2006), to depict him as providing anti-Semitic statements.
During an interview with Egyptian Weekly, discussing the Second Intifada, Sheikh Sabri was asked, "How do you deal with the Jews who are besieging al-Aqsa and are scattered around it?" Instead, MEMRI quotes the interviewer as asking, “How do you feel about the Jews?" According to Mr. Whitaker, MEMRI then, “cut out the first part of the mufti's reply and combined what was left with part of his answer to another question” to provide an anti-Semitic sounding reply. In 2003, Mr. Carmon admitted to Mr. Whitaker that the translation was incorrect, and MEMRI has since posted a transcript of the interview that correctly states the interviewer’s question.