Media monitor marks 18 years of counter-terror efforts

Ariela Cotler

A little-known non-governmental organization based in Washington, founded by a former Israeli intelligence official, is helping law enforcement and security agencies in Canada and elsewhere in the free world in the fight against terrorism.

Since 1998, MEMRI – the Middle East Media Research Institute – has been monitoring media and official pronouncements in the Arab and Muslim worlds. It currently employs a team of 65 translators working in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu-Pashtu, Dari and eight other languages spoken in the Middle East and South Asia.

This material is made available in several western languages, as well as Hebrew and Japanese, to governments, security agencies, academics and the media, along with original analyses of political and social trends.

MEMRI believes western governments don’t have adequate resources to bridge the language gap in order to make informed decisions about countries and groups that pose a threat to them. Increasingly, MEMRI has been tracking social media and other Internet channels to document communication between terror groups and sympathizers or potential recruits.


“We can provide information on the location and travels of Canadians fighting for ISIS in Syria and Iraq,” or what Canadian imams are preaching, said MEMRI deputy director Elliot Zweig.

MEMRI is publicizing sermons by Canadian imam Shaban Sherif Mady that it believes are dangerous. It has released a video of him declaring this summer that “Jerusalem will only be regained through blood.”

Three years ago, a Canadian fundraising arm of MEMRI was established in Montreal at a gala addressed by founder and president Yigal Carmon, who served as chief adviser on counter-terrorism to former Israeli prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin. He left the government nearly two decades ago, and MEMRI is an independent, non-partisan organization that relies on private support.

MEMRI-Canada will hold the second major fundraiser of its short history, a celebration of the central body’s 18th anniversary, on Dec. 1 at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim. Ariela Cotler will be recognized for her involvement in MEMRI since its inception. Her husband, former Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, is on its board of advisers, as are such influential figures as Gen. (ret.) Michael Hayden, former CIA and National Security Agency director; former Bush administration officials John Ashcroft and Donald Rumsfeld; and Paul Bremer, former director of reconstruction in Iraq.

There is also a Canadian on the six-member board of directors: Reid Morden, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service from 1988 to 1992.

Guest speakers will be McGill University history professor Gil Troy and MEMRI vice-president Alberto Fernandez, a former U.S. ambassador to Equatorial Guinea.

“MEMRI-Canada’s mission is to support the translation work that enables MEMRI to assist Canada and other western governments in the day-to-day fight against extremism,” said MEMRI-Canada president Marilee Wexler.

MEMRI makes accessible more than 6,000 media report translations from its archives and nearly 16,000 minutes of translated television clips, making it the largest resource of its kind in the world. To date, there have been more than 20 million visits to the MEMRI TV website.

MEMRI also connects with advocates for reform in the Arab and Muslim worlds, and promotes their activities.

“We believe we are providing an accurate portrayal of the media in the Arab and Muslim world – the good and the bad – that lets people draw their own conclusions,” Zweig said. “It’s not true that we pick only the most extreme or egregious sources. Our only over-representation is of the reformists and liberals whose voices we are trying to amplify.”

Reservations for the Dec. 1 event can be made at [email protected]. For more information, call 613-800-0932.