The Deceptive Juan Cole and MEMRIAcademics do themselves and their students a great disservice when they substitute preaching for teaching. Juan Cole, a professor at the University of Michigan, runs a blog called "Informed Comment" which has received considerable attention, much of it from the echo-chamber on the far-left. However, Cole touched off a wider debate this month when he decided to take a shot at a favored anti-Israel target, the Middle East Media Research Institute, better known as MEMRI. Cole's accusations were typically exaggerated and unbalanced, probably intentionally so.
Cole's original comment on MEMRI was almost comical in addition to being wrong. He accused MEMRI of:
1. Having $60,000,000 budget (yeah, you read that right);
2. "[C]leverly cherry-pick[ing] the vast Arabic press, which serves 300 million people, for the most extreme and objectionable articles and editorials. It carefully does not translate the moderate articles."; and of being
3. "[O]ne of a number of public relations campaigns essentially on behalf of the far right-wing Likud Party in Israel that tries to shape American perceptions of Muslims and the Middle East in a negative direction."
Yigal Carmon, who runs MEMRI, proceeded to e-mail Cole and threaten him with a lawsuit. Carmon said that he had no idea where Cole got the $60 mil figure from, reminded Cole that MEMRI does not, in fact, look only for antisemitic articles and articles critical of the United States, but also for progressive Arab articles, and told Cole that he had nothing to do with the Likud party.
that he had no source for his $60 million quote, mischaracterized Carmon's reminder that progressive Arab voices were emphasized on MEMRI, and repeated his guilt-by-association accusations that MEMRI was a Likud house organ because Carmon and Meyrav Wurmser, who is MEMRI's co-founder, are identified as being on the right.
Cole's well-known as an anti-Israel activist, but his MEMRI claims are worth commenting upon because a number of left-wingers have made them.
I read a lot of what MEMRI puts out, and they are (surprise), not in the business of providing the Arab world with good public relations, which monarchical ambassadors with good English who school at Georgetown and Harvard, along with European leaders like Jacques Chirac and Western Arabist professors like Mr. Cole who dominate Middle Eastern studies in the US and Europe, are quite adept at doing. They do indeed spend time translating what people like Mr. Cole do not, the daily barrage of antisemitic filth that appears in the Arab presses. Mr. Cole seems to believe that this practice is unjustified because it does not include the moderate voices, but he fails to ask the obvious question, which is: Why aren't any of the pro-Arab organizations and academics he is constantly boosting doing what MEMRI is doing in addition to providing their take on the Arab world? Why are accusations of rampant antisemitism in the Arab world met with accusations toward Israel first rather than condemnation first?
And why isn't Mr. Cole thankful that MEMRI provides progressive Arab voices from the Arab media to an extent that few others do? These articles (which are not, as Mr. Cole erroneously claims, all written by secularists) suggest that there are indeed voices in the mainstream of the Arab world who are horrified by the hatred that is a part of the mainstream Arab discourse. They suggest that the problems of the Arabs are not insoluble. Mr. Cole apparently prefers not to highlight these voices; it suggests, as I have argued before, that so-called progressives are not progressives at all, but merely left-wing conservatives who simply cling to a different set of orthodox values. Like many ideologues, these folks do not allow the truth to get in the way of their politics.
There is little question that highlighting antisemitic articles in the Arab press and providing self-critical Arab voices is a favorite activity of right-wingers. The response should not be to question the motivation. The response of left-wingers should be to ask why highlighting antisemitic hatred is not a favorite activity of self-styled left-wing progressives as well. Left-wing progressives claim to be against antisemitism, but they are awfully weak on standing up to it when that means criticizing their unarguably non-progressive de facto allies in the Arab world.