Wikimedia has struck a deal with Israeli officials to promote students’ multi-lingual writing and re-writing of history, geography and science topics in Wikipedia. Unwitting readers of Wikipedia likely take accounts of Middle Eastern history at face value, not realising the extent of manipulation occurring behind the seemingly authoritative guise of an encyclopaedia. From word choice, to basic information given or omitted, to biased sources cited, Wikipedia is devolving into a completely untrustworthy source.
Of course there has been an Annual Wikipedia Academy Conference since 2009, where Israelis receive Wikipedia training and encouragement. And of course groups such as CAMERA, a pro-Zionist Israel public relations organisation, have been actively editing Wikipedia since at least 2008. And of course Israel has been actively funding hasbara on the internet for years and isn’t shy about its “digital diplomacy.” There’s even a “Jewish Internet Defense League” that claims to be the “cutting edge of pro-Israel digital online advocacy.” After all, the professed need for incessant national promotion campaigns fits into the “we are the ones under attack” theme.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has twice participated in the Israeli Presidential Conference. As he said at the 2011 Wikimania conference held in Haifa, “I love coming to Israel.” But it is Wales’ exchange with a Lebanese blogger that strongly calls into question Wikipedia’s public goal of offering a credible, neutral “sum of all human knowledge.” When the blogger asked Wales about his participation in the 2011 Israeli Presidential Conference, Wales snubbed the inquiry outright. Wales responded with trite, vacuous remarks in defence of Israel and then refused to communicate further. (An unripened e-conversation that amused several pro-Zionists.)
Surely Wikipedia management is aware that Israel is one of the most controversial topics in Wikipedia. One academic study determined that the “Israel” page was rivalled only by the “Adolf Hitler” page as being the most highly contested page contained in all of the study’s three language sets. (See image above.) From a researcher’s point of view, then, it is illogical to encourage additional bias in the most contentious topic. Yet that is precisely what Jimmy Wales has done and what this newly announced partnership does.
It can be very valuable to research Israeli sources—from newspapers to government agencies. But we should assess these sources with the knowledge that the information provided is filtered by an Israeli perspective, most likely Zionist. We should balance those sources with a variety of views from numerous perspectives. The key problem with anonymous, reference style sources like Wikipedia is that we might assume the neutrality they claim. Has Wikipedia offered similar partnerships with countries worldwide? Why not involve students in China, Peru, India, Russia, Germany, Sweden, Ethiopia, Vietnam, or the many other countries who might like a say in how the world is depicted? We have to wonder why favourtism has been allowed by Wikipedia and whether it will be openly revealed in its pages. Naturally, non-governmental Israelis should participate in building Wikipedia, but on equal terms with any other Wikipedian. Otherwise, Wikipedia is not what it pretends to be.
“The most controversial topics in Wikipedia: A multilingual and geographical analysis” (Yasseri T., Spoerri A., Graham M., and Kertész J., 2014)
Israel’s Ministry of Education & Wikimedia Israel Agree On New, Unique Initiative (Wikimedia Foundation, 10 June 2014)
“Initiative: Teachers, Students to Write for Wikipedia” (Israeli National News, 10 June 2014)
“Public schools to integrate Wikipedia into curriculum” (Israel Hayom News, 10 June 2014)
“Education Ministry and Wikipedia collaborate to write content for the internet site” (Jerusalem Post, 10 June 2014)
“EI exclusive: a pro-Israel group’s plan to rewrite history on Wikipedia” (The Electronic Intifada, 21 April 2008)
“The Mideast Editing Wars” (Gershom Gorenberg, 1 May 2008)
“Israel’s cyber warriors” (Lucy Tobin, 12 February 2009)
“Israel deploys cyber team to spread positive spin” (Jonathan Cook, 21 July 2009)
“Positive Views of Israel, Brought to You by Israelis” (Ethan Bronner, 17 February 2010)
“Israeli students to get $2,000 to spread state propaganda on Facebook” (Ali Abunimah, 1 April 2012)
“Jimmy Wales and Palestine” (Joey Ayoub, 12 January 2012)
“Israel to pay students to defend it online” (AP, 14 August 2013)
“Haifa University launches course in pro-Israel propaganda” (Ben White, 15 April 2014)
“University of Haifa’s ‘Cyber Warriors’ will help fight the delegitimization of Israel using new media” (U of Haifa, 30 March 2014)
Jimmy Wales and Palestine
By Joey Ayoub
I’ve had a discussion with Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, concerning the fact that he was participating in the Israeli Presidential Conference despite the international call of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Movement. Thought I’d share it with you. I’ll talk more about the Palestinian *issue* in other posts.
in Lebanese Time:
Joey H. Ayoub. Sunday 19th of June, 2011. At 22:18 Lebanese Time (+2 GMT)
Is it true that you’re participating in the Israeli Presidential Conference despite what the government is doing to the Palestinians?
Jimmy Wales. Monday 20th of June, 2011. At 0:19
Joey H. Ayoub. Monday 20th of June, 2011. At 0:32
I don’t find it polite to answer with a link (that I’ve already read).
I am well aware of the disgusting human rights record of my country. I have on numerous occasions shown my support for gay rights and migrant rights among others. My country is deeply divided among sectarian lines and I’ve participated in the last two secularism marches which shows its support to all forms of human rights, from religious freedom to gay rights to women rights.
That being said, how is that relevant to my question? I asked if it were true – I’m guessing it is – that you are participating in the Israeli presidential meeting despite Israel’s continuous violation of international law and human rights abuse which include land theft and murder of civilians – all of which are widely documented and are near-daily occurences ?
Jimmy Wales. Monday 20th of June, 2011. At 7:20
What’s your point?
Joey H. Ayoub. Monday 20th of June, 2011. At 7:41
I thought it was obvious. I was wondering how you could stand in the same room with people who are committing theft and mass murder on innocent civilians, most of which are guilty of pacifism and simply existing. Countless activists and men and women who care about humanity are doing their best to stop what is being inflicted upon the Palestinians because they can see the inhumanity of the situation. To simply do nothing and shake blood-soaked hands and ignore the whole thing is akin to those who didn’t care about the injustice inflicted upon black South Africans during the Apartheid era. The world is sick of Apartheid and doesn’t want to take part in it, despite how powerful the oppressors are. And we are asking you to join us.
Jimmy Wales. Monday 20th of June, 2011. At 9:42
How about those rockets? Complaining any about those?
Joey H. Ayoub. Monday 20th of June, 2011. At 10:31
You’re still deflecting sir. Yes, actually I am complaining about those. I’m kind of disappointed to be honest. I’d have thought the founder of Wikipedia wouldn’t use common apologist answers.
The rockets have been condemned as far as I’m aware by the international community, with a few idiotic exceptions as usual.
It still doesn’t justify anything. Israel is the oppressor and the Palestinians are the oppressed. Complaining about rockets when Israel has tanks, missiles, chemical weapons, a navy, aircraft and nuclear weapons is like complaining that they actually dare to fight back and would not just die and rid us of their existence.
How many Israelis have died in, for example, the Gaza ‘War’?
You can help yourself with a nice Wikipedia article for the answer:
The answer is 13; 3 civilians and 4 soldiers by friendly fire.
In other words, 3 murders (which must be, and have been, condemned)
How many Palestinian civilians? around 1400.
In other words, 1400 murders in 3 weeks.
4000 homes destroyed and over 50,000 civilians displaced from their homes.
The Gaza blockade is illegal, inhuman and disgusting and is making the lives of Palestinians a living hell comparable to those of the Jews who lived in the Nazi ghettos. A good description of the situation can be given by the ISM activist Rachel Corrie who also has a Wikipedia article and who was killed 8 years ago by an IDF bulldozer.
“What I’m witnessing here is a very systematic destruction of a people’s ability to survive”
I get reports, sir, and testimonies of what is going on in Palestine, especially in Gaza, on a daily basis, from activists and locals. I get to wake up in my comfortable bed, have a lovely breakfast and then read or watch what happened the day before, hoping that someone I know didn’t die. Two did.
I urge you to learn about the facts and look at the evidence because if there is anything that we can learn from history, it’s that the horrors committed by anyone will eventually be revealed to the whole public; the propaganda will not last eternally. It is becoming increasingly difficult to defend Israel without resorting to some sort of racist and fascist arguments that portray Palestinians as being dirty and evil by nature and therefore OK to destroy.
Palestinians are being murdered on a daily basis. The rate of Israeli civilians killed to Palestinian civilians killed is around 1-100 at the very least. That’s what we call a massacre, sir.
I’m guessing it’s bad for business to speak out for the voiceless. They don’t have money, they don’t even have houses so I guess they can’t ask for your support. I also know that Wikimania 2011 is happening in Haifa – the place where my grandmother was born – which might be the reason why you keep on answering with pointless sentences and questions.
I don’t even know if you’re actually aware of the situation or if you just deny it for profit. Either way, as someone who uses Wikipedia on a daily basis, I have to say that I’m disappointed that propaganda or pseudo-knowledge has triumphed, in your case, ironically, over knowledge.
The reason I’m asking you to not participate in the Israeli Presidential Conference is not out of hatred for Israel or Israelis. Many of the activists I mentioned are Jewish Israelis after all. The reason, which should be obvious, is that the people whom you will meet and, by saying nothing, will approve of their actions are responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. You will be remembered as someone who did collaborate with Apartheid.
When I later checked my inbox, I found out that he blocked me.
Mr. Wales will be the last speaker at the Israeli Presidential Conference on the 21st of June (today) afternoon in the presence of Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu. Other speakers include Tony Blair and Henry Kissinger.
“Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That’s what we’re doing.” – Jimmy Wales