Digital World: Wiki gone wild
Jun. 3, 2008
David Shamah , THE JERUSALEM POST
Now that Star Trek, in all its iterations, is finally off the air, what do you think the geeks are doing? Well, some of them are watching Dr. Who (like yours truly). But the others seem to have found a new hobby - editing Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org). There are dense, complicated rules about what to post and how to post it, chock full of esoteric terminology ("NPOV," "RPP," "GTL") designed to exclude those who are not part of the in-crowd.
Unfortunately, those esoteric rules have created a situation in which many Wikipedia entries are inaccurate and prejudiced against Israel - significantly reducing the value of the information it offers, and preventing those with a different spin on the facts from getting their voices heard.
I wrote about the Camera vs Wikipedia issue last month, and it generated a number of reader responses - including one from a Wikipedia editor. The controversy, it will be recalled, consisted of an "outing" by an Arab propaganda site claiming that Camera, the pro-Israel Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting, had "conspired" to take over Wikipedia, by "coordinating their actions in secret" to edit Wikipedia articles and give them a pro-Israel bent.
The Arab propaganda site "proved" its case by releasing alleged e-mail messages that it claimed contained "marching orders" to Camera members on how to get past the Wikipedia editors and insert pro-Israel positions in articles on Israel and the Middle East conflict.
I, and another writer in The Jerusalem Post, took umbrage at the depiction of the editing effort by Camera members as a "secret plot" to "take over" Wikipedia. "All our side ever tried to do was correct the misinformation," I wrote in my previous article - and Camera makes it clear that its mission is to correct inaccurate information about Israel, specifically of the type found on Wikipedia pages.
Enough said, one would think - unless that one happened to be a Wikipedia editor, who insisted in several e-mail messages to me that Camera had sinned, and must be sent to Wiki purgatory (i.e. the editors associated with the organization needed to have their editing license pulled). This editor, known among the Wiki folk as "Eleland" (who actually turned out to be a 22-year-old named Evan, from Canada, of all places) even put up a Wikipedia page (http://tinyurl.com/67fr3a) describing the controversy, called "Response to accusations of Wikipedia's anti-Israel bias."
In a vigorous e-mail exchange with yours truly, Eleland/Evan claimed neutrality on the political aspect of the "outing," his only concern being the integrity of Wikipedia. "I have no personal, ethnic or religious stake in the Isr-Pal conflict either way," he wrote - a curious statement in and of itself, since his Wikipedia user page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Eleland) contains comments like, "I also have an interest in controversial topics including the Arab-Israeli conflict among others," and "I will /*not*/ apologize for working strenuously to fix Wikipedia's severe neutrality problems when it comes to Israel."
Like there are no "neutrality problems" to protest when it comes to coverage of Sudan, Lebanon, Kosovo or a hundred other conflicts. But we'll let that pass. I do get the impression from Eleland/Evan's messages that it's the process, not the politics, that bothers him. "The problem is not political affiliation, or even partisan bias. The problem is that Wikipedia's organizational structure breaks down as soon as people start coordinating their actions in secret. It's not set up as a parliament where various partisan blocs wheel and deal freely," he wrote me.
In other words, editing is to be limited to those in the know - those whom "we" approve of. "We" would approve of editors who join the fraternity/sorority and learn how to edit a page "objectively" (if such a thing is possible). And they have to follow Wiki protocol against coordinating. Question: If 100 Camera members had somehow decided on their own to become Wikipedia editors, then there wouldn't be a problem? I doubt it - because it's not just about the process at Wikipedia. It's about the politics as well, at least when it comes to Israel.
How do I know? Because Eleland/Evan said so (remember, "I will /*not*/ apologize" etc.). And there, in that sentence, is the justification for Camera to violate the Wikipedia rule book in order to correct inaccuracies. Much as they'd like to think so, the anti-Israel crowd does not own Wikipedia, which is a publicly editable site.
Let's say Camera violated arcane rules set by editors to ensure their hegemony; what was the group supposed to do? Given that the rules are stacked against people who don't have endless hours to spend immersed in the Wiki "culture"; given that a large number of Wiki editors who have staked out a position on Israel are clearly anti-Israel ("objective" Evan isn't the only one); and given that Wikipedia really is full of inaccuracies about Israel, no fair-minded person can complain about Camera's efforts to set things right - with or without the approval of the Wikipedia "establishment."
What inaccuracies, you ask? How much time have you got to listen, I ask in return. The language and terminology used to describe Israel and its activities are polluted with anti-Israel assumptions and foundations - taken as fact. I could go on for hours, but I'll give a few examples involving the term "Israel and the Occupied Territories." Actually, this was an easy one, because Wikipedia's resource page on "occupied territories" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupied-territories) does actually portray the correct usage of the term.
In the section "Dispute over classification of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip after 1967," the page states: "The West Bank (current), and the Gaza Strip (until 2005), are often referred to as the occupied territories, however their status was, and for the West Bank continues to be, disputed."
Now that's Wikipedia's definition of "occupied territories" when it comes to Israel: "Disputed," not "occupied," is the preferred term, because of the historical background of the areas, as described on the page. "Occupation" implies that a sovereign country's rights have been violated. But as the page makes clear, there never has not been a sovereign in Judea and Samaria since the end of the British Mandate, and it is not as such "occupied."
The rejection by the Arabs of the UN Partition Plan in 1947 means that the area was never assigned to a government. Today it is in dispute between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (which never had sovereignty over the area either). Although my personal political opinion on the matter may differ, I can accept this description and terminology as historically and factually accurate. And its terminology is approved by Wikipedia, of course.
But the vast majority of Wikipedia pages don't use "disputed" to describe Judea and Samaria; they use the term "occupied territories" or, even worse, "The Occupied Territories," in upper case, as if they were describing an independent country!
This page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History-of-Hamas), for example, discusses Hamas's offer to recognize Israel if "it withdrew itself from all Palestinian occupied territories... and recognized Palestinian rights that would include the 'right of return'" (at least they put "right of return" in quotation marks).
Where are all the Wiki-policy wonks on these pages? Since when was there a "Palestine" to "occupy" territories from? You mean sticking to the letter of the law is required for Camera, but the anti-Israel crowd can put any old inaccuracy on a page?
It's even on non-political pages: This page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wildlife-of-Israel), which consists of a list of animals found in Israel, uses the term "the Occupied Territories"! But of course, Wikipedia's editors are far too busy busting "conspiracies" by Camera to worry about accuracy on its pages.
So, "occupied" those disputed territories must remain - even though the description contradicts Wikipedia's own definition of the status of the area! Talk about lazy! If you want to try this on your own, go right ahead; might I suggest checking out Wikipedia's use of the term "apartheid" regarding Israel? That Israel is an apartheid state is taken as an unshakeable statement of fact by the Wiki folk - evidence be damned. Jimmy Carter said so, didn't he?
I expect I'll get another e-mail from Eleland/Evan, or maybe one of his buddies, castigating me for nitpicking. "The whole world uses the term 'Occupied Territories' - Wikipedia is supposed to be different?" Well, yes - that's the whole point. You can't set rules about who can edit articles on Israel and how they can edit them, while maintaining inaccuracies on those pages that contradict historical fact (as described by Wikipedia itself), all the while claiming the mantle of "accuracy" and "objectiveness." If you can't follow your own rules, why should anyone else have to?