Wikipedia moves to bar ADL, claiming reliability concerns on Israel and antisemitim

Editor who initiated deliberation that ultimately led to ban on using the Jewish group as a source accuses it of ‘shameless politicization,’ while only a small minority defend it

The "Wikipedia" logo is seen on a tablet screen in Paris on December 4, 2012. (AFP Photo/Lionel Bonaventure)
The "Wikipedia" logo is seen on a tablet screen in Paris on December 4, 2012. (AFP Photo/Lionel Bonaventure)

JTA — Wikipedia’s editors have voted to declare the Anti-Defamation League “generally unreliable” on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, adding it to a list of banned and partially banned sources.

An overwhelming majority of editors involved in the debate about the ADL also voted to deem the organization unreliable on the topic of antisemitism, its core focus. A formal declaration on that count is expected next.

The decision about Israel-related citations, made last week, means that one of the most prominent and longstanding Jewish advocacy groups in the United States — and one historically seen as the leading US authority on antisemitism — is now grouped together with the National Inquirer, Newsmax, and Occupy Democrats as a source of propaganda or misinformation in the eyes of the online encyclopedia.

Moreover, in a near consensus, dozens of Wikipedia editors involved in the discussion said they believe the ADL should not be cited for factual information on antisemitism as well because it acts primarily as a pro-Israel organization and tends to label what they consider legitimate criticism of Israel as antisemitism.

“ADL no longer appears to adhere to a serious, mainstream and intellectually cogent definition of antisemitism, but has instead given into the shameless politicization of the very subject that it was originally esteemed for being reliable on,” wrote an editor known as Iskandar323, whose request for a discussion about the ADL ultimately led to the ban.

In a written statement, the ADL said the decision by Wikipedia was the result of a ”campaign to delegitimize the ADL” and that editors opposing the ban “provided point by point refutations, grounded in factual citations, to every claim made, but apparently facts no longer matter.”

“This is a sad development for research and education, but ADL will not be daunted in our age-old fight against antisemitism and all forms of hate,” the statement said.

Jonathan Greenblatt participates in a panel during the TAAF Heritage Month Summit at The Glasshouse on May 5, 2023 in New York City. (JP Yim/Getty Images via AFP)

The ADL’s ability to fulfill its mission is directly tied to its credibility, which has taken a significant hit with the decision by Wikipedia, said James Loeffler, a professor of Jewish history at Johns Hopkins University.

“The online arena is a major source of threats,” Loeffler said. “Losing this mark of trust will impair the ADL’s ability to reach digital audiences and counter online hatred. We desperately need solid, evidence-based data analysis of contemporary antisemitism. Without a trusted authority, we’re likely to see only more politicization and polarization to the detriment of all, especially vulnerable Jews.”

Wikipedia’s volunteer editors have debated the reliability of the ADL for years, as the group has come under criticism off of the platform from both the left and the right. But concerns coalesced into a new discussion about banning the group as a source in April, which was followed by months of discussion featuring hundreds of comments from dozens of editors.

A relatively small minority of editors sought to defend the ADL, arguing that the organization’s statistics and analysis are widely cited by many news outlets that are themselves trusted by Wikipedia. The defenders said critics of the group managed to show that the ADL may be biased or partisan but not that it publishes false information.

Editors supporting the ban focused on the ADL’s conduct following Hamas’s October 7 onslaught against Israel, the subsequent war in Gaza and the wave of pro-Palestinian demonstrations against Israel on college campuses.

Many editors said the organization had undermined its credibility by altering how it categorizes antisemitic incidents. Its new methodology included many pro-Palestinian protests in its annual audit of antisemitism, which reported a large spike over the previous year.

Anti-Israel activists take part in a march to mark the 76th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel, called the “Nakba,” or the catastrophe by Palestinians, in the Brooklyn borough of New York on May 11, 2024. (Leonardo Munoz/AFP)

Also cited were a series of controversial statements by ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who has claimed student protests were Iranian proxies, compared the keffiyeh head scarf to the swastika, praised Elon Musk after he promoted an antisemitic post on his social media platform X, and compared anti-Zionism to white supremacy. Editors pointed to news reporting about a staff revolt in January against Greenblatt’s statements.

The two sides lingered on a controversial definition of antisemitism that the ADL embraces. Authored by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the so-called IHRA definition has been endorsed by hundreds of universities, companies, and local governments, as well as the US House of Representatives. But the definition has also proven contentious with critics who say the definition is too broad and could be used to stifle pro-Palestinian speech.

Many of the critiques from the Wikipedia editors are things people on the political left have been saying for years, according to Dov Waxman, director of the Center for Israel Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“On the left, the ADL is often dismissed and regarded as a bad actor or propaganda outfit,” Waxman said. “But if that starts to move beyond just the left and Wikipedia and other sources and the journalists start ignoring the ADL’s data, it becomes a real issue for Jewish Americans who are understandably concerned about the rise of antisemitism.”

By deeming the ADL “generally unreliable,” Wikipedia is telling users that “the source should normally not be used, and it should never be used for information about a living person.” Wikipedia is not poised ban the ADL outright; enough editors have argued that some aspects of the ADL’s work, such as its database of hate symbols, should still be considered an acceptable source.

FILE – In this file photo from January 18, 2012, a blackout landing page is displayed on a laptop computer screen inside the “Anti-Sopa War Room” at the offices of the Wikipedia Foundation in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

The argument among editors over whether ADL is factually unreliable or merely biased or opinionated follows recent debates over how to classify some prominent conservative news outlets. Wikipedia has repeatedly revisited the question of Fox News, each time affirming that it is not reliable on the topic of politics and science. Earlier this year, a consensus was reached that the New York Post should not be used as a source, especially for politics.

It’s not the first time that Wikipedia editors have examined the reliability of a Jewish source. In 2021, editors debated coverage of leftwing and Muslim groups by the Jewish Chronicle, a British newspaper, ultimately declaring it generally reliable despite concerns of bias. The same year, Wikipedia editors banned the online encyclopedia Jewish Virtual Library for most uses due to concerns about its accuracy and pro-Israel bias. Earlier this year, they banned NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based pro-Israel advocacy group.

Wikipedia has long been the site of important intellectual battles involving Jews and Israel, and the volunteer editors running the site have at times struggled to maintain order. Last year for example, a scandal broke out when a pair of academics alleged that a group of editors were systematically distorting Holocaust history on the platform. More recently, editing battles relating to pages about Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel and its aftermath have regularly made news.

Mira Sucharov, a professor of political science at Carleton University, said Wikipedia’s decision represents a major opportunity to reflect on why the ADL is facing scrutiny and rethink communal approaches for fighting antisemitism.

“This is a sign that the Jewish community needs better institutions,” she said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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