Inside the war over Israel at Wikipedia

Behind the scenes, ideologically motivated actors are working to shape the knowledge shared on the world’s largest encyclopedia

After Wikipedia’s editors voted earlier this month to rate the Anti-Defamation League as an unreliable source on matters related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a group of online activists celebrated the news in a pro-Palestine channel on the messaging app Discord.

“A win for us,” wrote a user named Ivana. “Hopefully the Times of Israel comes next.” 

“Great news. Well done you and others who have been working hard on this front,” a user named Samer_BHH wrote about the ban, which was first reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Their exchange, which took place in an online community dedicated to editing Wikipedia articles to better reflect a pro-Palestinian narrative, offers a glimpse at how ideologically motivated actors operate behind the scenes to shape the knowledge shared on Wikipedia, one of the most visited websites in the world. 

The free online encyclopedia is managed by a vast network of unpaid, anonymous editors who maintain pages on topics ranging from obscure historical events to linguistics to sports trivia. As of June 25, there are more than 60.9 million Wikipedia pages in English alone

Central to Wikipedia’s mythology is the notion that these altruistic editors have no hidden motive besides expanding access to knowledge. But the decision by several dozen Wikipedia editors — a fraction of the more than 10,000 high-volume editors on the site, let alone the 117,000 editors who have been active in the last 30 days — to deem the ADL an unreliable source raises questions about the motivations driving editors on the platform and the far reach of a handful of highly active, ideologically driven users. 

“I appreciate the fact that Wikipedia is this amazing, extraordinary example of the democracy of the internet in many ways,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt told Jewish Insider last week. “At the same time, the process is fairly inscrutable to me, at least, and I think most people are unclear about, Who are the editors? What’s their scholarship? How do they have demonstrated expertise? We don’t know.” 

The Wikipedia editors’ decision to “deprecate” ADL, in the site’s parlance, relates to the group’s work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and on matters related to antisemitism that involve Israel or Zionism. At a time of rising global antisemitism sparked by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and the ensuing war in Gaza, the ADL argues that it’s nearly impossible to discuss antisemitism without also addressing Israel. 

“To suggest that there isn’t a relationship between hatred of a Jewish state and the hatred of the Jewish people, between campaigns to delegitimize Israel, and then attacks on Israelis and Jewish people here at home, it’s sort of baffling to me that people can suggest that somehow, some way, there’s no relation between these things,” Greenblatt said.

The ADL now joins Wikipedia’s list of unreliable sources, which also includes the Iranian government outlet Press TV, satire site The Onion and Gateway Pundit, a far-right site known to traffic in conspiracy theories. Editors who attempt to cite the ADL will receive a pop-up warning message. 

Meanwhile, other advocacy groups remain listed as reliable, including Amnesty International and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Earlier this year, editors affirmed the reliability of Al Jazeera, despite concerns raised by some over its ties to the Qatari government and its slanted coverage of the war in Gaza.

More than 40 Jewish organizations, led by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, wrote a letter on Monday to the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit host of Wikipedia, asking the organization to investigate the process that led the ADL to be deemed unreliable. “Fundamentally, Wikipedia is stripping the Jewish community of the right to defend itself from the hatred that targets our community,” the groups wrote in the letter, a copy of which was shared with JI. 

A spokesperson for the Wikimedia Foundation did not respond to a request for comment from JI on Monday. Maggie Dennis, vice president of community resilience and sustainability at the Wikimedia Foundation, told JTA that “this letter represents a misunderstanding of the situation and how Wikipedia works.” It is not for Wikimedia to override the editors, she explained.

A 2017 blog post from Wikimedia’s U.K. branch, published after Wikipedia came under scrutiny for editors’ decision to list the British tabloid The Daily Mail as an unreliable source, made clear that the site operates in a wholly decentralized fashion. There is no top leader at Wikipedia making editorial calls, and no one who can go in and reverse a decision made by the editors. “The ethos of the site is based on consensus and discussion with the aim of taking a neutral stance on contentious issues,” Wikimedia UK wrote in the post, which highlighted a value that is ostensibly central to Wikipedia editors, known colloquially in the Wikipedia world as “neutral point of view,” or NPOV.


Although the rules guiding Wikipedia’s editors are difficult to parse, all edits and discussions are publicly accessible, at least for those who can figure out how to make sense of the site’s lingua franca of acronyms, shared shorthand and technical jargon. The public discussion board where editors debated the reliability of the ADL reveals that some of the most active editors on matters related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict do not themselves take a neutral point of view.

One editor, who posted more than five dozen comments describing their opposition to the ADL, called Israel a “racist, apartheid and now genocidal” state. “The religious profession of a mass murderer is hardly relevant to the question of whether or not to condemn them,” wrote the editor, known as Iskandar323, when arguing that anti-Zionism is not related to antisemitism. 

When another commenter said the ADL viewed the slogans “globalize the intifada,” “by all means necessary,” “Zionism is terrorism,” and “from the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free” as antisemitic, Iskandar323 defended the use of each of them: “So … Calling for a global uprising against injustice; calling out what is arguably a duck as being a duck; and calling for freedom,” Iskandar323 wrote in response. Iskandar323 also accused the ADL of being unreliable because the organization “very explicitly lobbies on behalf of Israeli (foreign) interests.” 

Iskandar323’s identity is not known. But in April, on the messaging app Telegram, a user in an anti-Zionist channel described Iskandar323 as an explicitly “anti-Zionist editor” on Wikipedia, alongside two other accounts that were also active participants in the discussion board about the ADL. One of those accounts, named Nableezy, called the ADL “a pressure organization that uses misinformation and disinformation to push a false narrative.” Several commenters said the ADL should be considered unreliable because it uses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which is also used by the U.S. government and several dozen nations. 

Trying to navigate the maze of the site’s byzantine rules to understand who started the discussion, why they did so and how many people voted to downgrade the ADL can feel like an exercise in futility. But a summary of the discussion explains that “there is a clear consensus that the ADL is generally unreliable regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Further, the editors wrote, “The ADL can roughly be taken as reliable on the topic of antisemitism when Israel and Zionism are not concerned. “


It’s impossible to link the users Iskandar323 and Nableezy directly to the anti-Zionist Telegram channel. But their comments attacking the ADL, in tandem with other collaborative projects aiming to tilt Wikipedia in an anti-Zionist direction, make clear that editors who harbor hostility toward Israel are already having a real impact in shaping public knowledge about Israel and about antisemitism. 

Ivana and Samer_BHH, the two people who praised Wikipedia editors’ handling of the ADL, are active members of “Tech for Palestine,” a server on the messaging app Discord with more than 7,500 members that describes itself as a community “working towards ending tech’s support for Israel’s war on the people on Gaza, and towards a free Palestine.” Their posts appeared in a smaller channel called “Wikipedia Collaboration,” a project that aims to fight “on the Wikipedia front the information battle for truth, peace and justice.” 

Since its formation in February, members have written to the group with requests to edit certain pages to reflect new developments or to use their preferred rhetoric. One user named Zionisthater shared in February that they sought to remove the word “alleged” from “alleged Palestinian genocide” in an article about Aaron Bushnell, the U.S. Air Force servicemember who died after setting himself on fire in front of the Israeli Embassy. (That edit was overridden, and the current language uses “alleged.”) One of the most frequent commenters in the Wikipedia Collaboration chat, who uses the handle @zei_squirrel online, is also active on X, where they regularly deny that Hamas militants engaged in sexual violence on Oct. 7. 

Efforts are underway to recruit more people to the Wikipedia cause. The Discord channel recently posted a series of how-to videos on YouTube called “Wikipedia for Palestine.” All the videos are unlisted, meaning they do not show up in public searches on the site. 

“Wikipedia is not just an online encyclopedia. It’s a battleground for narratives,” a narrator with an Irish accent says in one video. She describes “selective framing,” “whataboutism,” “normalization,” “victimhood narratives” and “cherry-picking facts as tools used by people promoting “anti-Palestine propaganda.”

“These tactics are not just misleading. They are harmful and contribute to the perpetuation of injustice,” the narrator says over a colorful video showing people waving Israeli flags.

The battles playing out on Wikipedia are likely to have an impact that stretches beyond the website. 

“All of Wikipedia is fed into large language models and generative AI, and that’s what’s going to feed information for centuries,” said Yfat Barak-Cheney, director of international affairs at the World Jewish Congress, which released a report in March warning that biased editors are likely to have an impact on the site’s treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

“The report we did in March was exactly to alert that this is going on. This is going to have more consequences if we don’t deal with it better,” Barak-Cheney said. “I always can say for certain that ADL is not going to be the last on this. I’m not even sure it’s the first, but it’s definitely not going to be the last.” 

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