<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.



Forwarded message:

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
The Guardian


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  
and explanations."

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  
portrayed abroad."

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.

Wikipedia wars

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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