Bolton, Trump, and American MEMRI

Bolton, Trump, and American MEMRI

Bolton, Trump, and American MEMRI. The Middle East Media Research Institute, better known as MEMRI, calls itself a hate-speech watchdog, translating Arabic, Farsi, Turkish, and Urdu sound bites into English and posting them for mass consumption. Mideast watchers know it as a hawkish, fear-mongering nonprofit that cherry-picks the most extreme voices from Arabic talk shows while ignoring just about everything else. Yet news agencies and government bodies regularly cite MEMRI’s sensationalist clippings.

MEMRI has never once published a translation that put Arabs or Muslims in a positive light. And as a result, many might believe that these embellished posts are indicative of every single program or article in the Middle East’s media ecosystem. (They’re not.) 

It’s not surprising then that Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton has been a longtime MEMRI board member. What is shocking is that, even while serving at the White House, Bolton maintains his seat on MEMRI’s board of advisors. Indeed, MEMRI proudly amended his identification on the group’s list of board members to reflect Bolton’s elevation to national security adviser. 

It appears, however, that Bolton forgot to add his MEMRI gig to his executive branch personnel disclosure, which details all “positions held outside of government” [pdf]. He does list his other board memberships, including the far-right Gatestone Institute, in the filing.

As MEMRI’s ostensible raison d'être is to highlight racism, bigotry, and anti-Semitism, one wonders whether the organization ought to train its sights on the Pennsylvania Avenue public building where Bolton now works. In our current political moment, where the American president spouts racism on a daily basis, it would be easy to imagine. Indeed, an Arabic monitor of the U.S. media modeled on MEMRI might have a field day translating the hate speech of Sean Hannity or Ben Shapiro or Sebastian Gorka, who have hosted Trump officials like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on their broadcasts. It might highlight the raucous white nationalists who attended President Trump’s social media summit last week in the Rose Garden. And it could easily highlight the racist swill routinely produced by Trump himself.

White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway’s nativist comment to a Jewish reporter yesterday (“What’s your ethnicity?”), clearly reflects the normalization of bigotry in today’s Trumpified Republican Party. If John Bolton cared about democracy, pluralism, and tolerance, as he claims to, he’d need to go no farther than his workplace to amass a collection of hate speech suitable for a MEMRI that focused on the United States.