<CPOV> Fwd: Guardian article on Wikipedia and Israel
Maja van der Velden
majava at ifi.uio.no
Mon Aug 30 10:04:05 CEST 2010
I send this message a while ago, but it was never posted because I had
sent it from the from email address. Maybe most of you have seen it by
now. But since it was not posted on the CPOV list, some who are
interested in Wikipedia editing politics may want to read it.
To see this story with its related links on the guardian.co.uk site,
go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/aug/18/wikipedia-editing-zionist-groups
Wikipedia editing courses launched by Zionist groups
Two Israeli groups set up training courses in Wikipedia editing with
aims to 'show the other side' over borders and culture
Rachel Shabi in Jerusalem and Jemima Kiss
Thursday August 19, 2010
Since the earliest days of the worldwide web, the conflict between
Israelis and Palestinians has seen its rhetorical counterpart fought
out on the talkboards and chatrooms of the internet.
Now two Israeli groups seeking to gain the upper hand in the online
debate have launched a course in "Zionist editing" for Wikipedia, the
online reference site.
Yesha Council, representing the Jewish settler movement, and the
rightwing Israel Sheli (My Israel) movement, ran their first workshop
this week in Jerusalem, teaching participants how to rewrite and
revise some of the most hotly disputed pages of the online reference
"We don't want to change Wikipedia or turn it into a propaganda arm,"
says Naftali Bennett, director of the Yesha Council. "We just want to
show the other side. People think that Israelis are mean, evil people
who only want to hurt Arabs all day."
Wikipedia is one of the world's most popular websites, and its 16m
entries are open for anyone to edit, rewrite or even erase. The
problem, according to Ayelet Shaked of Israel Sheli, is that online,
pro-Israeli activists are vastly outnumbered by pro-Palestinian
voices. "We don't want to give this arena to the other side," she
said. "But we are so few and they are so many. People in the US and
Europe never hear about Israel's side, with all the correct arguments
Like others involved with this project, Shaked thinks that her
government is "not doing a very good job" of explaining Israel to the
And on Wikipedia, they believe that there is much work to do.
Take the page on Israel, for a start: "The map of Israel is portrayed
without the Golan heights or Judea and Samaria," said Bennett,
referring to the annexed Syrian territory and the West Bank area
occupied by Israel in 1967.
Another point of contention is the reference to Jerusalem as the
capital of Israel - a status that is constantly altered on Wikipedia.
Other pages subject to constant re-editing include one titled Goods
allowed/banned for import into Gaza - which is now being considered
for deletion ? and a page on the Palestinian territories.
Then there is the problem of what to call certain neighbourhoods. "Is
Ariel a city or a settlement?" asks Shaked of the area currently
described by Wikipedia as "an Israeli settlement and a city in the
central West Bank." That question is the subject of several thousand
words of heated debate on a Wikipedia discussion thread.
The idea, says Shaked and her colleauges, is not to storm in, cause
havoc and get booted out - the Wikipedia editing community is
sensitive, consensus-based and it takes time to build trust.
"We learned what not to do: don't jump into deep waters immediately,
don't be argumentative, realise that there is a semi-democratic
community out there, realise how not to get yourself banned," says
Yisrael Medad, one of the course participants, from Shiloh.
Is that Shiloh in the occupied West Bank? "No," he sighs, patiently.
"That's Shiloh in the Binyamin region across the Green Line, or in
territories described as disputed."
One Jerusalem-based Wikipedia editor, who doesn't want to be named,
said that publicising the initiative might not be such a good idea.
"Going public in the past has had a bad effect," she says. "There is a
war going on and unfortunately the way to fight it has to be
In 2008, members of the hawkish pro-Israel watchdog Camera who
secretly planned to edit Wikipedia were banned from the site by
Meanwhile, Yesha is building an information taskforce to engage with
new media, by posting to sites such as Facebook and YouTube, and
claims to have 12,000 active members, with up to 100 more signing up
each month. "It turns out there is quite a thirst for this activity,"
says Bennett. "The Israeli public is frustrated with the way it is
The organisiers of the Wikipedia courses, are already planning a
competition to find the "Best Zionist editor", with a prize of a hot-
air balloon trip over Israel.
There are frequent flare-ups between competing volunteer editors and
obsessives who run Wikipedia. As well as conflicts over editing bias
and "astroturfing" PR attempts, articles are occasionally edited to
catch out journalists; the Independent recently erroneously published
that the Big Chill had started life as the Wanky Balls festival. In
2005 the founding editorial director of USA Today, John Seigenthaler,
discovered his Wikipedia entry included the claim that he was involved
in the assassination of JFK.
Editors can remain anonymous when changing content, but conflicts are
passed to Wikipedia's arbitration committee. Scientology was a regular
source of conflict until the committee blocked editing by the movement.
Critics cite the editing problems as proof of a flawed site that can
be edited by almost anybody, but its defenders claim the issues are
tiny compared with its scale. Wikipedia now has versions in 271
languages and 379 million users a month.
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