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Wikipedia’s Jewish Problem

Posted By Karin McQuillan On July 13, 2010 @ 12:00 am In FrontPage | 59 Comments

Wikipedia is used by 68 million people a month.  Google Jerusalem, Israel, the Holocaust, jihad – the first reference to come up is Wikipedia.  Most users mistakenly think it is an encyclopedia.  Actually it is a special sort of blog, self-styled “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.”  Open an article, click on the edit tab, add or remove what you like.  Everyone in the world writes Wikipedia.

The Wiki ideal is consensus.  Think of the above topics and consensus.  The Wiki rule of anonymous contributions abets abuse.  Editors who disagree duke it out on the discussion page, a sort of Lord of the Flies world where ganging up and bullying reign.  Wiki co-founder Larry Sanger left the project in protest against this “mob rule.”  As Sanger put it, “A few of the project’s participants can be, not to put a nice word on it, pretty nasty. And this is tolerated.”

Unless you like endless fighting with anti-Semites and Israel-haters, it is not pleasant to try to contribute to topics dealing with Israel.  Major topics like Jerusalem or the Holocaust attract enough attention that destructive editors’ depredations are kept at a minimum.  More specialized topics, like Hajji Amin al-Husseini, the Nazi founder of the Palestinian movement, are a mess.  Propaganda purporting to be reference material, such as “Israel and the Apartheid Analogy,” is tolerated although it is against the rules.

Wiki has guidelines, such as using referenced sources and not insulting fellow editors.  There are also rules – more than one hundred pages of jargon-laden rules against ‘edit warring’ alone – including a rule to ‘ignore all rules.’  They are indeed ignored most of the time.  Then suddenly one is enforced by summary judgement by Wiki’s anonymous “administrators.”  If a rival editor’s complaint is judged favorably, you are banned from Wiki on the spot.  It is frontier justice: no time to present your case, no review of the controversy. This system has not worked well on Jewish or Israel related topics.  As Larry Sanger points out, it is a system that is easily gamed by the malicious, abetted by a nerd culture that doesn’t understand proper supervision.

I had read a Jerusalem Post article saying that Wiki was being flooded by pro-Palestinian activists.  I was aware the Electronic Intifada had worked the Wiki system so that CAMERA volunteers had been banned, because working together violates a Wiki rule.  I clicked around on various discussion pages on Jewish or jihadi topics, interested in finding editors who were advocating accurate information.  On topic after topic, when I clicked on the Jewish editor’s name, I discovered they, too, had been banned.

I should have turned back right then, but I can be naïve and stubborn.  I thought I could avoid the pitfalls.  I told myself it would be satisfying to add good, solid content.  Although all things Jewish are my special interest, I thought I might succeed if I avoided Israel and anything contemporary or directly political. I thought I’d be guarded by the rule of having authoritative references for every statement.

I was a professional writer for fifteen years, and take great pleasure in accurate research.  I wrote three books that were translated into five languages and am most proud that my two fact checkers found only one error in the last book.  So it was natural that in retirement I thought it would be meaningful to contribute to Wikipedia.

I had an idea for a well-documented topic on which there is universal consensus among experts.

This topic appealed to me because it is about accuracy and journalistic ethics, something close to my heart.  I decided to put in some information on “The New York Times and The Holocaust.”

Years ago I had the privilege of auditing a class on the Holocaust with Eli Wiesel at the BU Divinity School, and came across a research article by a journalism professor, Dr. Laurel Leff that I never forgot.  While it was happening, and something could have been done, the New York Times had a deliberate policy to bury news of the Holocaust.  The Times published the reports of the roundups, the gas chambers, the death toll, but by telling the news in a few sentences, in inch-high articles, on inside pages, they deliberately insured that the public didn’t understand that the Jews of Europe were being massacred.

While this sorry story of illegitimate journalism is unknown to the general public, the record of the New York Times, like the rest of Holocaust history, is exhaustively documented.  On their 100th anniversary and 150th anniversary, the New York Time’s admitted it had “buried” the news of the Holocaust.  It has been the subject of a museum exhibit, turned into a documentary; with interviews of top journalists and Holocaust experts. In 2005 Dr. Leff published a full page book on the subject, Buried by the Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper.

There is universal consensus on the facts.  New York Time’s retired executive editor Max Frankel nailed it this way on November, 2001, in their full-page 150th anniversary self-assessment, “Turning Away from the Holocaust.”: “No article about the Jews’ plight ever qualified as the Times’ leading story of the day, or as a major event of a week or year.” The Times ran only five editorials that mentioned Europe’s Jews out of more than 17,000 during the war.  Readers of the Times would not know that the Warsaw Uprising involved Jews. The Time’s consistently editorialized in favor of President Roosevelt’s decisions to bar European Jews trying to flee the death camps.

When the death camps were liberated, Eisenhower summoned the nation’s top editors and publishers to join him as eyewitnesses. The Times sent Julius Ochs Adler, vice president and another family member of the Times dynasty.  His account of Buchenwald ran on page six.

Max Frankel called the Times decision to bury the news of the Holocaust ‘the bitterest journalistic failure of the century,’ a tragedy that abetted Hitler’s genocide. He admitted the policy was directed by publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger, for both political and personal reasons.  Sulzberger didn’t want Jews to be considered a people, with a right to a homeland in Israel; he didn’t want his paper criticized as Jewish; and he didn’t approve of Jews helping fellow Jews.  He didn’t want any daylight between his paper and FDR, including FDR’s policy to ignore the ongoing Holocaust.  Frankel asserted that having learned this lesson of past failure, the Times has since ‘shed its sensitivity about its Jewish roots’ and dropped its hostility to Israel.

Frankel quoted Dr. Leff extensively.  He characterized her as “the most diligent independent student of the Times’ Holocaust coverage.” Leff documented how The New York Times, which defined the Holocaust as a non-story for the national media, made it impossible for Jewish groups during the war to galvanize the public or politicians to do anything for Hitler’s Jewish victims.

Legendary New York Times editor A.M. Rosenthal (promoted to editor in 1961, he was forbidden to use his full name, Abraham, as it was too Jewish for the Times) was asked in a 2001 interview aired on the History Chanel, to review the Time’s Holocaust coverage. “…it was no good. It was paltry. It was embarrassing. It was wrong. It was morally and journalistically wrong…If the Times had come out big on this, that would have brought a lot more attention in the country.”

Among experts on the topic there are some minor points of discussion: was New York Times owner-publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger more motivated by political considerations, fear of anti-Semitism or the desire to protect his own privileged position as an assimilated Jew?  Did he downplay the Holocaust because he felt welcome in the American elite only as long as he was indifferent to Jews and Zionism – the equivalent of liberal journalists today to whom fitting in at cocktail parties is more important than accuracy about Israel? His writings indicate a sincere belief in the Reform Judaism of his day, which repudiated Jewish peoplehood and nationhood.  Like Jewish liberals today, he hated Jewish loyalty, preferring compassion for all mankind.  All these motives are supported by Sulzberger’s public speeches and private letters.  All agree he set the policy to bury news of the Holocaust and was unopposed by any editor at the Times.

Dr. Leff’s information on Sulzberger is chilling.  Here are a few examples I included in the Wiki article: “Sulzberger took over the running of the New York Times on Ochs’ death in 1935. He adopted a policy against printing any letters on the persecution of Jews in Germany, claiming that if he published letters decrying persecution, he would have to in fairness also publish letters in favor, so, he explained, “many valuable contributions attacking anti-Semitism have been excluded from these columns.”

Sulzberger was incensed when Roosevelt used the term “Jewish race” in a statement on the refugee problem. The Times publisher wrote there was “no common denominator”  between the “poor unfortunate Jews now being driven around what was recently Poland….and myself.” “In Poland this Jew is a part of a recognized minority. … I, fortunately, (am) in no such category.”   Sulzberger explained “after a great deal of effort” he had purged the Times of such terminology – that is, the word Jew.

In June of 1942, he wrote: “As far as I am concerned, if a Jew were to become a Christian Scientist, he would cease being a Jew…I am quite prepared to admit however, that …Hitler, in particular, has made this transition difficult.”

After visiting the death camps in Europe in 1945, Sulzberger gave an address to a Reform temple stating that there was an overemphasis on Jewish refugees, who were after all, only a minority of the victims.  He criticized Jews who tried to focus world interest on the problem of Jewish survivors, still in camps in Europe, “instead of using their great moral strength to plead the cause of all displaced persons.”

I only found one controversial opinion on this topic, articulated by Harvard University Professor Ruth Wisse, who sees the New York Times repeating the same mistakes of the 1930s, as it buries news of Arab neo-Nazi motives and agendas:

• Seventy-five years ago anti-Semitism found its home on the European right. Today it’s more likely to be found among intellectuals of the Left who, Prof. Wisse argues, suffer from a “massive intellectual resistance to acknowledging the threat.” … The Times missed the way Adolf Hitler’s abuse of the Jews signaled a broader danger to the democratic freedoms and civil liberties of everyone, and set in stark relief Hitler’s ambition to dominate the world. Prof. Wisse accuses the Times of a similar blindness today, when embarrassment over Jewish causes governs the newspaper’s coverage of the Middle East, and the paper fails to report “in copious detail on the unmistakable signs of growing Arab extremism that erupted with spectacular force in the attacks on America of September 11.”

I decided not to include the Wisse quote.  Intelligent readers could draw their own parallels to present day New York Time’s coverage of the Islamists’ neo-Nazi war against Israel.

So you won’t find the Ruth Wisse analysis in Wikipedia. Yet, perhaps her comments shed light on what follows — for you will not find the rest of the information either.

Do not bother to go to Wiki to read my entire article.  It is not there.  It has been removed and a short, inaccurate and polemical “stub” (Wiki jargon for treatment accorded to trivial topics) has been put in its place.  The information on Sulzberger that I added to the Sulzberger bio has been entirely removed.

The section I added to the New York Times page was also removed.  You can find a few sentences buried at the end of the article under a general sub-heading, “Controversy and Criticism,” next to such scandals as junior journalist Jayson Blair’s plagiarism in 2003.  Wikipedia has buried the news of the New York Times burying the news of the Holocaust.  History repeats itself without shame.

How did this happen? My initial post on the New York Times page attracted the attention of three hostile editors.  They claimed I was a liar, the topic trivial, and that the Times had “dropped the ball only a little.” They outnumbered me.  Playing the Wiki system, they had me banned from the page while they removed the original article and substituted a few inaccurate paragraphs.  They blocked the fact the Times had famously apologized in their 100 and 150th anniversary additions. They blocked references to Dr. Leff’s full length book.  They blocked quotes from the founding directors of the Holocaust Museum, Michael Berenbaum; the Wyman Center for Holocaust studies, Rafi Medoff; Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, Marvin Kalb; and they blocked A. M. Rosenthal, managing editor of the Times from 1962-78 and executive editor until 1988.  They blocked all mention of Sulzberger, and all the details and numbers that give the topic its impact by making it meaningful.  In short, they bury the news of the New York Times burying the news, much as the Times did it years ago.

Wiki now informs the public that “according to two authors… The New York Times coverage of the Holocaust … was not as prominent as it should have been. … Deborah Lipstadt alleged the paper was particularly responsible for the press not giving adequate coverage to the Holocaust.”

Although all contributions are anonymous, you can learn something about fellow editors by clicking on their name, which leads you to a page that lists all their Wiki contributions.  Their leader, whose user-name on Wiki is “bali ultimate,” announced his special interest was the Obama election. He was active in removing any criticism of the New York Times.  The only article he seems to written was on the Times of Jordan.  He had made thousands of edits in wiki and boasted that he liked to “correct” other people’s work.  He broke many rules with his lack of references and savage personal attacks on other editors, but got a free pass from the administrators, for reasons not obvious from the outside.

Wiki powers-that-be (it’s not clear who they are, as that is anonymous as well) banned me from contributing to the article without the permission (‘consensus’ in wiki-speak) of the three hostile editors.  I played the game on the discussion page, but all that came out of it was something obvious: it is an abusive experience to be told you need consensus from anti-Semites on facts about the Holocaust.

Finally I decided to turn to the Wiki “administrators” and ask that bali and his two sidekicks be banned from the topic for refusing to participate in consensus.  Not one of their assertions were referenced, a cardinal Wiki rule.   They were insulting to other editors, another Wiki rule broken.  They had deleted an entire article, breaking the rule against ‘vandalism.’

I went to the help page to ask for feedback on my proposed complaint.  Asking how to frame the problem, I characterized bali ultimate as a “functional Holocaust denier.” I explained that although this was a small Petri dish, the germ was the same.  He and his cohorts were denying this one small piece of Holocaust history: they had argued that the topic was a lie, was trivial, that the experts are just expressing an opinion, official acknowledgements mean nothing, the facts are merely ‘alleged,’ and the entire topic should be deleted.

Bali ultimate had been stalking me.  He preemptively reported to the administrators that I called him a Holocaust denier.  He declared himself ‘livid’ (whining he faced similar accusations in the past). Perhaps there is a special rule that one may not use the term Holocaust denial, even in a question.

I was immediately banned – within minutes – from Wikipedia for criticizing bali, without the chance to defend myself.  The administrators refused to review what had been going on with the article over the course of six months.  I was directed to apologize.  I decided instead to write this article.

Wiki has an Israel problem.  Wiki has a Jewish problem. Wiki has a kangaroo court problem.  Wiki reaches hundreds of millions of people with misinformation about Jews and Israel.  We have a problem.

Karin McQuillan is a former Peace Corps Volunteer, psychotherapist and author, specializing in Africa and the Middle East.


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