Dani Ishai Behan
Dani Ishai Behan

Wikipedia’s Jewish Problem: Pervasive, Systemic Antisemitism

I am writing this piece at the insistence of a friend who wishes to remain anonymous. That friend is a Wikipedia editor who became embroiled in a bitter conflict over the alleged antisemitic bias of much of its editing community. Although I was hesitant to get involved at first, I took the time to read through and assess my friend’s claims, including two very long threads disputing Jewish ethnic identity. What I saw left me feeling horrified and shaken. That is why I am now convinced that the Jewish community must take urgent action.

The importance of this task cannot be underestimated. Wikipedia articles are among the first to come up in any Google search, irrespective of topic. It is also the primary source of knowledge for hundreds of millions of people, so by incorporating historically and empirically inaccurate narratives about Jews, Wikipedia dangerously exacerbates and mainstreams antisemitism on a cosmopolitan scale. And as we have seen throughout history, bigotry flourishes when the lies that form its foundation are insufficiently challenged.

Take, for example, the aforementioned threads negating Jewish identity. One can easily glean from the vector and outcome of both conversations an unwillingness on the part of most editors (one of whom is, ironically, an ultra-right wing Israeli “settler”) to accept facts that contradict their dogma, even when faced with a staggering amount of source-based evidence. Likewise, they maintain the use of double standards in their arguments, even when reminded that it is a violation of Wikipedia’s guidelines. Instead, they rely on “Consensus”, which is Wikipedia parlance for “majority rule”, to push their false narrative through. They shun encyclopedic standards – including objectivity, balance, and reliable sources – under the guise of “what the people want”. And because that majority – however slim – wants to deny Jewish identity, that is exactly what happens.

As a result of the internalized or unchecked antisemitism of the majority of its editors (just like the majority of people in the offline world), Wikipedia has taken on a decisively antisemitic slant. Thus, a toxic environment is created wherein anti-Zionist narratives and editors are privileged over neutral or pro-Israel ones. All they need to do is gang up on the other side, proclaim them “biased”, “single purpose accounts”, “POV pushers”, etc, and then wield numerical sway to effectively silence the opposition. It is an antisemitic mob’s wet dream.

Israel-related articles almost uniformly emphasize the Palestinian and Arab narrative while marginalizing the Jewish one. Rudimentary facts about Israel’s history: including Palestinian massacres on Jewish civilians, Arab intransigence being a primary factor in the conflict’s intractability, and even the Jewish people’s origins and indigeneity to the land of Israel are either downplayed or outright erased. On some articles, it fails to recognize Jews as an ethnic group in the Middle East, whereas others engage in casuistry in order to present anti-Israel opinion as incontestable fact. A list of similar errors can be found here and, although it is nearly a decade old, very little has changed since then (in fact, many of the errors the article describes are still standing).

So what can be done about this? The answer is simple: everybody who cares about the truth must create an account, learn the site’s rules, and push back vigorously against those who would defame or delegitimize the Jewish people on the world’s largest online encyclopedia. Do not be intimidated by the task at hand, for there is too much at stake. If all else fails, we must pressure Wikipedia itself to remedy this problem, or face a community wide boycott. Unless we do something, antisemitism will further metastasize to a point where we will no longer be able to fight it.

About the Author
Half-Irish/half-Jewish American activist, musician, and writer.