February 9, 2005 Special Dispatch No. 861

Egyptian Media Organization Created to Counter MEMRI: 'We will Publish an Ethical Code for the Arab Press'

February 9, 2005
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 861

This week marks the seventh anniversary of the establishment of MEMRI. Within the Arab world, MEMRI's activities continue to be covered extensively. For example, last week the London Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat published a full-page interview with MEMRI President Yigal Carmon, discussing MEMRI's research.

Also in the Arab world, a media organization named Arabs Against Discrimination (AAD), associated with the leading Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, was recently established to counter MEMRI's work. Its director, 'Imad Gad, stated that a code of ethics for the Arab media must be established.

The Egyptian weekly Akhbar Al-Adab published an interview with Gad, who is also associated with the Center for Political and Strategic Studies of the Al-Ahram publishing house, dealing primarily with the establishment of AAD and with the organization's struggle against the recently-enacted U.S. Global Antisemitism Review Act. [1] The following are excerpts from the interview: [2]

About the AAD's Establishment, and MEMRI

Akhbar Al-Adab: "[What is] the role of AAD, and what was the background to its establishment?"

Gad: "Within the framework of our work at Al-Ahram's Center for Political and Strategic Studies, in [which we prepared] a series of 'selected Israeli excerpts,' we used to monitor the activity of the various Zionist organizations - how they operate, and how they hunt down [material], from here and there. The onslaught [against the Arab media] increased when MEMRI was founded in 1998, with branches in many capitals worldwide, such as in Washington, Berlin, Moscow, and Tel Aviv.

"MEMRI is short for 'Middle East Media Research Institute.' This name is very general, [and in fact the institute] focuses on monitoring the Arab press and accuses it of antisemitism and of [hatred for] Western culture. [The institute] has a website in seven languages. Since it has a branch in Washington, it can convey the material it monitors to Congressmen, as well as some videotapes that it records, which include statements by some Arab figures.

"Because there was no reaction on the Arab side, MEMRI went a step further and accused [various] Arab figures of antisemitism. One [of the accusations] was directed against author [and Al-Ahram Editor] Ibrahim Nafi'. [3] We considered how the matter should be dealt with. Should we make do with the refutation of the lawsuit [brought by the French authorities against Nafi'], or is this a continuous onslaught? Within the framework of our consultations with a number of legal experts and researchers, it was agreed to establish AAD.

"The question that preoccupied us was how this Zionist organization operates. When we investigated the matter, we found the article by a British journalist titled 'Selective MEMRI.' [4] [Brian Whitaker] said that he had received e-mail from this institute containing excerpts from the Arab media described as antisemitic. I returned to the sources they indicated, and found that the excerpts had taken out of context and that the translation is inaccurate. And he [Whitaker] also found that this organization is composed of Mossad officers, headed by Col. Yigal Carmon, who was [Yitzhak] Rabin's and later [Benjamin] Netanyahu's advisor on terrorism.

"[Whitaker] said that the [necessary] Arab response is simple: for the Arab media to publish translations [of their articles] into foreign languages and to direct them to the West, because they can convey what they write in the best way. At the end [of his article,] Whitaker said that the Arabs ultimately prefer to sit back and grumble about the machinations of the Israeli intelligence.

"This was a landmark article for us, [and we began] to monitor the activity of this organization [MEMRI]. The Western world was aware of this problem and was surprised at the lack of an Arab voice, while our writings are being distorted…"

Akhbar Al-Adab: "Is this where the idea to establish AAD along the same lines as MEMRI came from?"

Gad: "It was agreed to establish AAD in order to monitor all the organizations that monitor what they term 'Arab antisemitic hatred,' and to expose all their forgeries. In addition, [AAD] will monitor the racism with which the Israeli media is replete, not only against the Arabs but also against the West, and not only against Islam but also against Christianity, foreign workers, and women.

"On the [AAD] website one finds 14 topics pertaining to discrimination in Israel. By this we are trying to say that Israel is not a democratic country, that it does not respect human rights, and that it violates international law, conducting a policy of discrimination and persecution."

Akhbar Al-Adab: "When AAD's establishment was announced, there were concerns that it is an official organization."

Gad: "This is not true. We are a civil organization registered in France in order to be able to file lawsuits in the European Community's courts of justice. In addition, a branch [of AAD] was opened in Cairo in the framework of an agreement with the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, and we plan to open [another] branch of AAD in Washington."

AAD's Activities Against the U.S. Global Antisemitism Review Act

Akhbar Al-Adab: "Are [you hoping to establish a branch in Washington] so that it will be possible to take action there against the new U.S. [Global Antisemitism Review] Act ?"

Gad: "We have begun taking legal action. We are studying the American Act and are following the French bill for a law [regarding antisemitism]. We have set up a legal [department] in order to prepare for the convention [5] and in order for them to study the [U.S. Global Antisemitism Review] Act in the context of international law. This is because no country – whatever its international weight – can legislate a law in its parliament and enforce it worldwide…

"We will also try to raise the subject before the U.N. General Assembly in coordination with Arab and international elements, in order to counter [the American] act, which constitutes a danger to everyone, and not only to the Arabs. If you curse the Christian religion and the Divine Being in America, nothing will be considered wrong with this, and nobody will hold you accountable. However, if you oppose Sharon's policy you will be severely punished…"

Akhbar Al-Adab: "In your opinion, will the act be implemented, or is it merely an American pressure tool, which will be utilized whenever [America] so desires?"

Gad: "I think it will be implemented… Because of the religious conservative right-wing control of the U.S. administration for another four years, and because of the continuous talk of reforms, democracy, changing the curricula, and changing the [Arab] media discourse, I expect that the act will be applied on different countries regardless of whether the country is a [U.S.] ally or not. [The act] could be applied on Egypt and Saudi Arabia if the governing elite [in the U.S.] decides to act in accordance with the act, at the expense of freedom of thought and of expression."

Akhbar Al-Adab: "Do you think you have the ability to get the act cancelled, and what can be done on this matter?"

Gad: "We could bring about the suspension or cancellation of the act in many ways. However, we, as Egyptian citizens, do not have the right to do so. All we can do is expose the act and broaden the framework of solidarity with us on the part of various countries. Perhaps the next stage will be to turn to the U.N. General Assembly.

"The problem with the American act is that it spreads fear in many Arab circles. There are those who are afraid to work with our organization [because they fear that] they will be accused of antisemitism. If the Arabs had any desire to take action, we could broaden the scope of action with legal experts in the U.S., both Arabs and non-Arabs. They could submit legal petitions to cancel the act on the grounds that it is against the [U.S.] constitution, which [establishes] the equality of all U.S. citizens, regardless of religion, race, and color. The American act discriminates between members of the Jewish religion and Moslems, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and others, thereby [violating the principle of] equality."

Akhbar Al-Adab: "What else can be done by AAD apart from the [Cairo] convention?"

Gad: "In principle, AAD wants to take action in order to counter this onslaught. We have the ability to supply the material required and to organize the convention. What is important, however, is for this idea to spread and for us to gain moral and political solidarity and support on the part of the Arabs, even more than economic support."

Akhbar Al-Adab: "You talk about solidarity, but this language is not understood in politics, which always speaks in the language of interests and power. This is especially true regarding France and Germany, which intend to legislate a law similar to the American act."

Gad: "Of course. But [one must] provide the facts to Western public opinion, which receives media material from the Zionist institutions. We are trying to change the picture and to feed Western public opinion with facts. On the other hand, the Western countries are democratic countries, which can hold their rulers to account through elections. The Spaniards, for example, overthrew [Spanish Prime Minister] Aznar when he decided to enter the war against Iraq. That is the value of turning to world public opinion. You do not reap the results instantaneously but after long-term building…"

'It is Not Befitting to Defend the Palestinian Problem by Abusing the Jewish Religion'

Akhbar Al-Adab: "There is a certain problem with the Arab press, which deals with the Arab-Israeli conflict in an emotional way, leading to counterproductive results."

Gad: "Activities are underway for a convention in one of the Arab countries, which will publish an ethical code for the Arab press. In this convention AAD will present some books that the Zionist organizations 'hunted down.' [We want to] say that such writing is harmful and that it is not befitting to defend the Palestinian problem by cursing the Jewish religion. We will try to reach an ethical code for the Arab press regarding the nature of the treatment of such topics and in order to dry up the wells upon which the Zionist organizations rely."

[1] AAD has begun publishing a short monthly report focusing on "antisemitism," which includes instances of anti-Arab bias, in protest against the Western definition of "antisemitism" which only applies to Jews. Al-Ahram (Egypt), January 28, 2005.

[2] Akhbar Al-Adab (Egypt), December 19, 2004.

[3] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 107, September 6, 2002, ' French Legal Authorities Investigating Editor of Major Egyptian Daily for Antisemitism'; French Legal Authorities Investigating Editor of Major Egyptian Daily for Antisemitism.

[4] This refers to Brian Whitaker's 2002 article in The Guardian.

[5] The convention was to be held January 16-17, 2005. It ultimately never occurred.

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