Meyrav Wurmser, the Israeli-American director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the neoconservative Hudson institute, is a longtime proponent of hawkish views on the Middle East and, along with her husband David Wurmser (a Middle East adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney), a member of an elite clique of policy wonks who heavily influenced the George W. Bush administration's response to the 9/11 attacks.
In recent years, organizations linked to Wurmser have been particularly active in propagating a number of right-wing narratives about both Muslim majority countries and Muslims living in the United States. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), an organization cofounded by Wurmser in 1998 that offers translations of Arabic, Farsi, and other Middle Eastern publications for Western audiences, has been accused of "cherry picking" sources and providing misleading translations that heighten the impression of anti-Semitic or anti-American rhetoric in the Middle East. The Center for American Progress has called MEMRI "the Islamophobia network's go-to place for selective translations of Islamist rhetoric abroad."
Wurmser has also sat on the board of advisers of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, a right-wing "pro-Israel" lobbying group directed by Sarah Stern that is composed primarily of U.S. neoconservatives and former Israeli diplomats. The group made headlines in 2008 for working with the controversial Clarion Fund to coordinate the election-season distribution of Obsession, an anti-Islamic documentary that some observers describe as "'hate propaganda' which paints Muslims as violent extremists and, among other things, explicitly compares the threat posed by radical Islam to that of Nazi Germany in the 1930s."
Wurmser occasionally takes to the op-ed pages to push neoconservative viewpoints, especially with respect to Israel. In March 2012, for example, she penned an entry for the New York Times' "Room for Debate" blog in which she argued that Israel's widely known but seldom acknowledged nuclear arsenal was less of a danger to Middle East peace than a potential Iranian bomb. "Israel has demonstrated that it conceives of and uses its nuclear program responsibly to deter its enemies, and it never caused Egypt, Jordan or Saudi Arabia to seek a nuclear program," she wrote "In contrast, Iran has consistently portrayed its program as an offensive agent of Israel's annihilation. … Since Iran's program existentially threatens Israel, Israel must possess the means to deter or defeat the realization of that threat."
She added that any agreement by Israel to a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East would "would reward Iran's aggression, confirm its strategy of threats, and encourage it to accelerate." Iran, which western intelligence agencies still believed had not decided to pursue the development of a nuclear weapon as of early 2012, has said it would support the establishment of such a zone.
Lebanon War and Prelude
In January 2007, Wurmser organized a conference at the Hudson Institute entitled "Keeping Lebanon's Freedom and Democracy Alive," which was aimed, according to Wurmser's opening remarks, at drawing attention to "the very real threats to Lebanon's freedom. These threats directly matter to the United States since a renewed Syrian influence in Lebanese affairs and a stronger Hezbollah would mean a stronger, more dangerous Iran." Among those speaking at the event were Tony Badran of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Adib Farha of the American-Lebanese Coalition, and Joe Gebeily of the Lebanese Information Center.
The focus of much of the conference was on the continuing fallout from the summer 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, which ultimately resulted in the embarrassing pullout of Israeli troops from Lebanon. In an August 9, 2006 column for the Hudson Institute titled "The 1973 Syndrome," Wurmser argued that Israel's failure to quickly destroy Hezbollah's missile capabilities during its attack in southern Lebanon echoed Israel's failure to prevent the early victories won by the Egyptian and Syrian armies when they attacked the country in 1973, setting off the October (or Yom Kippur) War.
"I was a child during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, but I remember it well," Wurmser wrote. "Israel was not defeated or destroyed in that war, but the Arab armies' ability to wage a broad surprise attack and seriously challenge the Israeli military shocked us all. The failure to anticipate the war and to obviate severe losses quickly became known as the mechdal (great oversight). ... This smashed all illusions of the Israeli public that leaders could be trusted and that victory could always be rapidly assured. It robbed them of the triumphalism bred by the 1967 War, in which the Israeli Army stunningly defeated its enemies in a mere six days. 1973 was a rude awakening, reminding Israel of its vulnerability. The war now being waged on Israel's northern cities is likewise stirring such an awakening."
She added: "The mechdal of 2006 has fractured Israeli society along the lines of the government and the governed, shattering illusions of invincible military power and trustworthy leadership. Historically, this is the stuff of major political change. The 1973 War ultimately led to the 1977 'revolution' in Israeli politics that brought the Likud and Menachem Begin to power. It is too early to predict just what changes we will see and who will pick up the pieces, but a vulnerable populace without strong, in-touch leadership is surely one that is ripe for upheaval."
Other analysts have drawn similar parallels between Israel's past conflicts and its 2006 anti-Hezbollah campaign in Lebanon. However, in contrast to Wurmser, who argues that "Israel will win this war in any objective sense," less ideological observers point to a potential weakening of Israel's strategic position in the Mideast as a result of its attacks in Lebanon. Leon Hadar of the Cato Institute argued in his Global Paradigms blog that the conflict might prompt questions in the United States about its strategic relationship with Israel. "Even if Israel succeeds in destroying Hezbollah's military infrastructure in southern Lebanon, it will find itself in a more vulnerable position in the Middle East," Hadar wrote. "Not only would it find itself confronting a more hostile Arab world, but its failure to win the military confrontation with Hezbollah in a swift manner—this is the nation with a military that had defeated the Arab countries in six days in 1967—is bound to raise major questions about its ability to deter future challenges to its survival by non-state groups as well as states in the region. American leaders are also going to begin questioning their long-held axiom that Israel is a 'strategic asset' of the United States in the Middle East. Some would argue that it proved to be a 'burden' for U.S. interests this time."
In 1996, Wurmser participated in a study that led to the report, "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," which was published by the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, a Jerusalem- and DC-based think tank. The report, which urged Israel to break off then-ongoing peace initiatives, contained six pages of recommendations for Likud Party leader and then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "to work closely with Turkey and Jordan to contain, destabilize, and roll back" regional threats, help overthrow Saddam Hussein, and strike "Syrian military targets in Lebanon" and possibly in Syria. Other study participants included Richard Perle, David Wurmser, and Douglas Feith.
In 1998, Wurmser cofounded the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) with Yigal Carmon, a former colonel in the Israeli military. According to journalist Jim Lobe, MEMRI specializes in translating and distributing "particularly virulent anti-U.S. and anti-Israel articles appearing in the Arab press to key U.S. media and policymakers."
Commenting on the impact of her work with MEMRI, Wurmer's Hudson Institute bio says that it "helped to educate policymakers about the Palestinian Authority two-track approach to 'negotiating peace' with Israel: calling for peace in the English press and with Western policymakers while inciting hatred and violence through official Arab-language media."
Although MEMRI describes itself as nonpartisan, the institute, which has offices in London, Washington, Jerusalem, and Berlin, has frequently been accused of being nothing more than a propaganda outfit for Israeli intelligence. According to the Guardian, "Retrieving another now-deleted page from the archives of MEMRI's website also throws up a list of its staff. Of the six people named, three—including Carmon—are described as having worked for Israeli intelligence. Among the other three, one served in the Israeli Army's Northern Command Ordnance Corps, one has an academic background, and the sixth is a former stand-up comedian."
The Guardian also reported: "Although MEMRI claims that it does provide translations from Hebrew media, I can't recall receiving any. Evidence from MEMRI's website also casts doubt on its nonpartisan status. Besides supporting liberal democracy, civil society, and the free market, the institute also emphasizes 'the continuing relevance of Zionism to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel.' That is what its website used to say, but the words about Zionism have now been deleted. The original page, however, can still be found in internet archives."
In a widely noted 2011 report on the so-called "Islamophobia network"—a patchwork of prominent U.S. foundations, opinion makers, and media personalities who spread negative impressions about Islam and Muslims in the United States—the Center for American Progress called MEMRI "the Islamophobia network's go-to place for selective translations of Islamist rhetoric abroad." The report notes the organization has received praise from prominent U.S. neoconservatives and Islamophobes like Frank Gaffney, Daniel Pipes, and Robert Spencer, and has received funding from several foundations identified in the report, notably the Bradley Foundation, the Russell Berrie Foundation, the Donors Capital Fund, the Becker Foundation, the William Rosenwald Family Fund, and the Fairbook Foundation.
In the June 2006 American Prospect, Robert Dreyfuss claimed that Wurmser was responsible for arranging a meeting between Syrian dissident Farid Ghadry and prominent officials in the Bush administration, including Elizabeth Cheney and John Hannah. Ghadry, a Virginia businessman and Syrian expatriate, is the founder and president of the Reform Party of Syria.
Wurmser's work was formerly promoted by Benador Associates, a now-defunct public relations firm led by Eleana Benador that arranged speaking engagements for many neoconservative and right-wing figures, among others.