What is the Middle East Media Research Institute?
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) is a sensationalist and Islamophobic media monitor, playing a significant role in the U.S. Islamophobia Network. Although it is often associated with internet memes, MEMRI has earned a reputation for distributing selective, distorted, and inaccurate translations of Middle Eastern media.
In a 2019 report, CAIR documented a total of $7 million in support from mainstream American philanthropic organizations going to MEMRI. The organization claims to be “independent” and “non-partisan,” despite its founder Yigal Carmon’s close ties with the Israeli government.
MEMRI’s board of advisors includes former CIA Director James Woolsey, who promoted Islamophobic conspiracy theories about the Islamization of the American legal system, and Peter King, known for spearheading the Islamophobic Congressional “Muslim radicalization hearings.”
Steven Emerson, a prolific anti-Muslim figure with a “history of promoting falsified information and conspiracy theories about Islam and Muslims” previously served on MEMRI’s board of directors.
John Moreton of The Guardian reports that MEMRI’s translation choices almost exclusively portray Muslims and Middle Easterners negatively, perpetuating stereotypes of extremism and demonizing entire nations and communities. MEMRI has been caught mistranslating media or selectively removing context to present individuals as more politically charged or violent than they actually were.
MEMRI often sources from fringe outlets that do not accurately represent mainstream attitudes held by Muslims and Middle Easterners.
An academic report from the University of Leeds finds that MEMRI frames “by default the Arab and Muslim world as uniformly extremist and dangerous, and indeed … demonize[s] whole nations and communities”.
Brian Whitaker, former Middle East editor for The Guardian newspaper, described MEMRI as “a propaganda operation,” selectively choosing translations to suit its political agenda and providing an unfair picture of Middle Eastern media as a whole. 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.”
MEMRI’s Islamophobic narratives gain influence through its clientele, board of directors, and advisors. The organization receives research requests from the U.S. government, military, and legislature, as well as from governments worldwide. Several former high-ranking military and national security officials, along with current professors from esteemed educational institutions, make up MEMRI’s board of directors. Individuals associated with MEMRI are also listed as prospective consultants on counter-terrorism in the Pentagon’s Countering Extremism Working Group.
MEMRI is a favored source for high-profile Islamophobes. Prominent Islamophobe Robert Spencer refers to MEMRI as a “goldmine,” while Frank Gaffney, known for promoting conspiracy theories about the “Islamization of America,” considers MEMRI “indispensable.”
Neo-Nazi mass murderer Anders Breivik referenced MEMRI over a dozen times in his manifesto before carrying out the 2011 terrorist attacks in Norway.