Now it is official: Israeli campaign to control Wikipedia content
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)
By Brenda Heard, 16 June 2014