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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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Mideast media monitor launches Canadian branch

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Yigal Carmon

MONTREAL — The video of a Muslim cleric railing from the pulpit against foes of supposed Jewish origin and warning Christians in Egypt that “the fire will burn you” was not from Cairo or Tehran.

Canadians were shocked that it was surreptitiously filmed this past August in Edmonton during a Friday sermon by Egyptian-born Sheikh Shaban Sherif Mady.

That such hate-filled rhetoric was being espoused in this country would likely have never been known if such activity wasn’t being constantly monitored, translated from Arabic, and disseminated to the media and posted on the Internet.

The organization behind that effort is the Middle East Media Research Institute, known as MEMRI, a Washington, D.C.-based non-governmental, non-partisan organization founded 15 years ago and headed by a former Israeli intelligence officer.

MEMRI relies entirely on private donations, and a Canadian fundraising arm has just been set up under the presidency of Marilee Wexler, who is working with a small Montreal-based board of directors. The group has been incorporated as a charitable organization for tax purposes.

MEMRI founder and president Yigal Carmon, who served a chief adviser on counter-terrorism to Israeli prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin, will be the guest speaker at MEMRI Canada’s official launch at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim on Nov. 6. Jason Kenney, federal minister of employment and multiculturalism, will also speak.

The $180-a-plate dinner is dedicated to the memory of Bernard Finestone, a stalwart of Shaar Hashomayim and a MEMRI supporter. Finestone, who died at age 92 last May, was a World War II veteran who played a role in the struggle for Israeli statehood. A new autobiography, written with David Brody, will be launched that evening.

MEMRI has gained widespread credibility for its ability to survey on a daily basis media in the Arab and Muslim world, exposing material that’s hateful or threatening to Israel or Jews, or to the West in general. It focuses on the mainstream media, not the fringe.

Its staff of more than 80 employees worldwide quickly – and accurately –translate, not only Arabic, but a total of 12 languages, including Farsi, Turkish, and Urdu-Pashtu. This material is spread to the western media, or sometimes only to government or military contacts around the world. MEMRI translates material into English, French, Hebrew, Russian, Chinese and several other languages.

Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reprehensible statements about Israel and the Holocaust came to light largely through the work of MEMRI. More recently, MEMRI claimed credit for exposing anti-Semitic remarks by now former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi.

MEMRI is especially alert to glaring discrepancies between what Arab/Muslim audiences are told and what is said to the West.

Its surveillance ability goes beyond the media to include other public forums used by political, religious and academic figures. MEMRI material is used by governments, military, the media, academia and the public.

Among MEMRI’s advisers are historian Bernard Lewis, Nobel peace laureate Elie Wiesel, former U.S. defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, former World Jewish Congress president Edgar Bronfman, and Montreal MP Irwin Cotler, as well as pro-democracy advocates from Arab and Muslim nations.

The organization has gained such credibility, Wexler said, because it provides the unvarnished truth, “without a filter of interpretations or bias. Words speak for themselves, and this is what we hear and see on MEMRI’s website.”

No one else is doing work like this, she said, and the information it’s making available is more vital than ever.

Although it’s most active in the United States and Israel, MEMRI has had a growing influence in Canada in recent years, Wexler said. MEMRI material or its officials have been cited frequently in  newspapers and TV across the country.

MEMRI was behind the coverage this past summer of the plight of a Canadian woman in Saudi Arabia whose Saudi husband kept her locked in the house, and two Saudi women’s rights activists who were imprisoned for attempting to bring her food.

French-language media are also using MEMRI material. In July, La Presse reported on a video translated by the organization of an 11-year-old Yemeni girl who ran away to avoid being married off as a child bride.

A November 2012 report by MEMRI about Iranian quasi-governmental organizations that seek to subvert Canada by recruiting Iranian-Canadians to their cause was shared with the Canadian government and law enforcement bodies and has led to action by Canadian authorities.

Earlier in 2012, French comedian Dieudonné, who has been in trouble in his country for performances deemed anti-Semitic and for minimizing the Holocaust, was barred from entering Canada to do shows. MEMRI had provided Canadian authorities with translated clips of his appearances on Middle Eastern TV.

MEMRI is also increasingly providing information to the Canadian government, the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP and other agencies such as the immigration and border services, Wexler said.

At least eight Canadian universities, including McGill and the Université de Montréal, use MEMRI material in either teaching or research, she added.

Thanks to MEMRI, Wexler noted, Canadians now know that Sheikh Mady of Edmonton claimed Egyptian Muslims were the victims of a conspiracy by Egyptian military leader Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, “whose mother was a Moroccan Jew,” “global Zionism,” and “those traitors, the Saud clan, the sons of Jew.”

For more information on the Nov. 6 launch, email memri@memri.ca.

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