How a Small Group of Pro-Israel Activists Blacklisted MintPress on Wikipedia

30 July 2019 — Mint Press

For over ten years, Wikipedia has been a key focus of right-leaning, pro-Israel groups that have effectively weaponized the online encyclopedia as a means of controlling the narrative when it comes to the state of Israel’s more than 50-year-long military occupation of Palestine.

by Whitney Webb

For over a decade, pro-Israel and ultra-nationalist Israeli settler groups have sought to weaponize the popular online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, through concerted covert editing campaigns, offering Wikipedia editing courses to West Bank settlers and even formal alliances between Israel and Wikipedia to allow Israelis to create and edit content in a variety of languages.

In recent years, this alliance between pro-Israel partisans and Wikipedia has stepped up, largely in response to the growth of the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to pressure Israel to comply with international law with respect to occupied Palestine and the blockaded Gaza Strip. As a consequence, news outlets that consistently report on the success of BDS, such as MintPress News, have been targeted on Wikipedia by such partisans, who recently succeeded in blacklisting MintPress as a “reliable source” on the online encyclopedia.

In early June, a small number of partisan Wikipedia editors privately voted to blacklist MintPress News from use as a source on the online encyclopedia website at the behest of a Wikipedia editor who took issue with MintPress’ coverage of current events in Venezuela and Syria. At no point was MintPress ever asked to comment or allowed to respond to any of the allegations made and MintPress is unable to appeal the decision.

Of the Wikipedia editors who voted to discredit MintPress, several were self-listed as experts in video games, computer science and anime, not geopolitical events, while others had previously gained notoriety for partisan promotion of pro-Israel perspectives and/or the U.S.-funded Venezuelan Popular Will political party, of which the U.S.-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó is a member.

The involvement of pro-Israel partisans in the blacklisting of MintPress on Wikipedia is notable in light of the well-documented and unprecedented efforts of the Israeli government to promote the partisan editing of Wikipedia and to subsequently incorporate the online encyclopedia into its national educational curriculum.

The successful effort to blacklist MintPress News on Wikipedia began on June 1 and was initiated by Wikipedia user “Jamesz42,” a Wikipedia editor from Venezuela who has written several English-language Wikipedia articles on the wives of Popular Will politicians as well as on protest leaders and journalists who are aligned with Popular Will.

MintPress is one of several news organizations that have reported extensively on Popular Will’s U.S. government funding, its lack of popular support in Venezuela, and its history of engaging in violence. Yet MintPress is the only independent outlet that has been blacklisted on Wikipedia for reporting these facts. TeleSur, which is partially funded by the Venezuelan government, was also recently blacklisted by Wikipedia and some of the same users that targeted MintPress, including Jamesz42, were involved.

When his claims against MintPress were challenged by another editor, “R2”, Jamesz42 claimed his reason for starting the query as to MintPress’ credibility was that “MintPress News has been used several times as a source in articles about the Syrian Civil War and the Venezuelan crisis, among other controversial topics, which is the reason why I started this RfC [request for comment].”

However, apparently unable to find a factual inaccuracy in MintPress’ Venezuela or Syria coverage, Jamesz42 cited the accidental incorrect placement of a single hyperlink in a recent MintPress article about Microsoft’s Pentagon-funded election software, ElectionGuard, that was the result of a (now-fixed) copy-and-paste error made by the article’s author.

Jamesz42 stated:

The article accuses Microsoft of “price gouging for its OneCare security software,” and links that text to “Microsoft accused of predatory pricing of security software,” an article from The Guardian (RSP entry) that describes the exact opposite: “Incredibly, Microsoft has priced themselves almost 50% below the market leader.” (See Predatory pricing for a definition of the practice.)

The MintPress News article then uses its own false claim to assert that Microsoft’s ‘offering of ElectionGuard software free of charge is tellingly out of step for the tech giant and suggests an ulterior motive behind Microsoft’s recent philanthropic interest in “defending democracy.”’”

The sentence of the article from which Jamesz42 is quoting began by stating: “Considering that Microsoft has a long history of predatory practices, including price gouging …” The link that was originally attached to the text “price gouging” was the Guardian article referenced by Jamesz42, but was originally meant to link to the text reading “predatory practices.”

As noted, this was a copy-and-paste error on the part of the author and the article intended to link to the term “price gouging” — an article from The Verge titled “Apple, Microsoft, and Adobe attempt to justify ‘price gouging’ to Australian hearing” — was fixed when the error was brought to MintPress’ attention. Such corrections are common practice, undertaken by all reputable news organizations and indicative of high standards of integrity and accountability.

Notably, Jamesz42 claims that Microsoft’s predatory practices that include price gouging were invented by MintPress, even though the original version of the article with the copy-and-paste error based this on the claim that Microsoft was known to engage in predatory practices, with price gouging listed as an example, and citations were provided to back the claim, as even Jamesz42 noted.

This copy-and-paste hyperlink error was the main justification for the blacklisting of MintPress on Wikipedia by Jamesz42, along with the fact that MintPress has previously republished content from the websites ZeroHedge and the Free Thought Project — notably in spite of the fact that all content republished on MintPress contains the following disclaimer:

Stories published in our Daily Digests section are chosen based on the interest of our readers. They are republished from a number of sources, and are not produced by MintPress News. The views expressed in these articles are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect MintPress News editorial policy.”


Evidence-free name-calling and piling-on

After Jamesz42 made these initial claims, another user, “PaleoNeonate,” said that he confirmed his suspicion that MintPress’ reporting was “strange” with a “pro-Israel source” that referred to MintPress as “fringe.” PaleoNeonate then claimed that MintPress is unreliable for republishing “Russian state media” and reporting on “conspiracy theories” on chemical weapons attacks in the Syrian conflict. MintPress has been accused of promoting “conspiracy theories” about well-known, alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria on several occasions and MintPress reports on the subject were later corroborated by award-winning journalists like Seymour Hersh and Robert Fisk. Notably, this user, PaleoNeonate, is an expert in computer science, not geopolitics.

These caims were followed by user “Alsee,” who was also involved in the effort to blacklist TeleSur. This user stated: “It’s unclear whether MintPress is part of the Russian fake news engine or merely a bunch of ‘useful idiot’ nutters participating in the same content-sharing web of alternative ‘news’ sites,” and also claimed that MintPress “is widely considered unreliable.” Alsee’s evidence for the latter was that Google and Facebook’s censorship of MintPress was proof that the site is “fake news.” Alsee’s comment was responded to by the anonymous moderator account “Newslinger,” who stated that MintPress “clearly has no ambition to be a reliable source.”

Another user, “TheTimesAreAChanging,” without providing evidence, called MintPress “a cesspool of conspiracy theories and misinformation,” and is notably an editor of Wikipedia articles related to video games. The user “IceWhiz” stated that MintPress should be blacklisted “for propagating non-mainstream viewpoints (which are usually UNDUE),” but also provided no further explanation for this assertion.

An additional user, “Bobfrombrockley,” cited the fact-checking organization Newsguard and its rating of MintPress. That rating came several months after MintPress authored a viral exposè of Newsguard’s connections to neoconservatives and former government officials, including former CIA director Michael Hayden. MintPress later authored an in-depth response showing that Newsguard’s rating of MintPress was clearly biased and possibly influenced by our critical reporting on their operations.

At one point, one user, “R2,” objected to the way the Request for Comment thread on MintPress’ reliability was being handled, which was seconded by the user “Peter Gulutzan.” The user R2 stated:

This RfC violates our verifiability policy. It amounts to little more than a popularity contest and is inconsistent with [Wikipedia’s “context matters” rule]: Each source must be carefully weighed to judge whether it is reliable for the statement being made in the Wikipedia article and is an appropriate source for that content.” (emphasis in original)

This user further stated:

It is inappropriate for us to go through obscure sources that have only been glancingly addressed here and to decide whether they satisfy the reliability bar absolutely or generally.”

The moderator Newslinger responded:

The above evidence is more than enough to establish MintPress News as highly questionable. There is no need to go through additional motions when multiple discussions’ worth of evidence is presented in this RfC.”

Yet, as previously mentioned, the aforementioned discussion of MintPress’ alleged unreliability was only related only to: 1) The since-amended copy-and-paste error in the ElectionGuard story; 2) Allegations about republished, not original content; and 3) Newsguard’s openly dishonest rating of MintPress News.

The thread was then closed by user “SJones23,” who is a self-described expert in Star Wars, video games and the animated television series Dragon Ball Z, and is not a site administrator. This action taken by SJones23 resulted in the blacklisting of MintPress and the site’s listing as a site that “publishes false or fabricated information.”


“Unreliable” blacklisting seems to mean anti-Israel

Several of the Wikipedia users involved in blacklisting MintPress News have gained varying degrees of notoriety for their pro-Israel partisanship on the online encyclopedia. The user Icewhiz, who stated that MintPress should be blacklisted for “propagating non-mainstream viewpoints,” has lobbied to delete the entire Wikipedia article on the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, which Icewhiz refers to as the “Israeli military administration in the West Bank.” Prior to lobbying for the article’s removal, Icewhiz had edited the article on the military occupation of the West Bank by removing the entire section about settler violence targeting Palestinians and most of the section about how the military occupation affects Palestinian children, among other pertinent information.

In addition to his efforts to remove information from Wikipedia articles that paint Israel’s military occupation of Palestine in a critical light, Icewhiz also attempted to alter the article on Palestinian nurse Razan al-Najjar, who was killed by an Israeli sniper during the Great Return March protests in the Gaza Strip last year, despite clearly wearing a vest marking her as a medic. Icewhiz added a video of al-Najjar that was later found to have been heavily edited and promoted by the Israel Defense Force as a means of justifying her death and subsequently re-edited the article to promote the IDF interpretation of the video after another editor included information critical of the IDF’s use of the doctored video. Icewhiz also edited the article on Razan al-Najjar to claim that she was “allegedly shot” by the IDF, despite the fact that there has been no disputing the IDF’s responsibility for her death, even from Israel’s government.

Per other threads of Wikipedia, two other users who voted to blacklist MintPress — users “Shrike” and “Stefka Bulgaria” — collaborate or have collaborated with Icewhiz and have defended Icewhiz from accusations of editing with an extreme pro-Israel bias. The user Shrike, who called MintPress “clearly unreliable,” has co-authored articles on historical leaders of the Zionist movement with Icewhiz and currently lives in Israel.

Notably, Shrike was involved in allowing the neoconservative pro-Israel think tank, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), to edit Wikipedia articles with “protected status,” according to information posted by another user on his profile page. The current president of JCPA is Dore Gold, a former advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations during Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister, and the Center receives large amounts of funding from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a major supporter of Netanyahu and a top donor of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Shrike Israel Wikipedia MintPress News

Shrike was awarded for his role getting protected status for a neoconservative pro-Israel think tank

Another user who voted to blacklist MintPress was Bobfrombrockley, who is a supporter of the Syrian opposition in the Syrian conflict and refers to militant groups in the Idlib province, all of which are now affiliated with the terror group al-Nusra Front (now Hayat Tahrir al-Sham), as “moderate Islamist” groups. As was previously mentioned, one of the reasons that MintPress was flagged for blacklisting on Wikipedia was related to our Syrian coverage.

Despite his support of “moderate Islamist” groups, this user responded to the question “What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat?” by saying “the literal truth of the Koran.” On his personal webpage, he also describes himself as “a reluctant Zionist, a critical Zionist, some days a borderline anti-Zionist, but a Zionist nonetheless.”

Bobfrombrockley Israel Wikipedia MintPress NewsA screenshot from Bobfrombrockley’s personal blog


Weaponizing Wiki

For over ten years, Wikipedia has been a key focus of right-leaning, pro-Israel groups that have effectively weaponized the online encyclopedia as a means of controlling the narrative when it comes to the state of Israel’s more than 50-year-long military occupation of Palestine.

For example, the Electronic Intifada reported in 2008 on how the group CAMERA, a pro-Israel media-monitoring organization, taught pro-Israel activists how to circumvent Wikipedia’s editing rules to include certain talking points that would normally be flagged as state propaganda, and discussed the need to build an “army” on Wikipedia to ensure the dominance of their point of view. The story was subsequently picked up by other outlets and Wikipedia later banned some of the editors whose names appeared in the CAMERA emails.

Unsurprisingly, the Electronic Intifada was targeted late last year by several of the same users who targeted MintPress, including Icewhiz and Shrike, who described the site as “partisan” and “propaganda,” respectively. As a result of Electronic Intifada having been flagged repeatedly by users like Icewhiz, Wikipedia now lists the site as “generally unreliable with respect to its reputation for accuracy, fact-checking, and error-correction.” However, it has yet to be blacklisted.

Two years after Electronic Intifada’s report, Haaretz revealed that the Yesha Council of settlements (i.e., illegal settlements in Palestine’s West Bank) and the right-wing group Israel Sheli were giving courses “designed to teach how to register for, contribute to and edit for Wikipedia” in order to “affect Israeli public opinion by having people who share their [the right-wing groups’] ideological viewpoint take part in writing and editing for the Hebrew version, and to write in English so Israel’s image can be bolstered abroad.” The course, which was co-organized by Naftali Bennett, who later became Israel’s education minister, included an award for “Best Zionist Editor,” which would go to the person who made the most “Zionist” changes to Wikipedia.

Then, in 2013, Haaretz reported that yet another pro-Israel organization, NGO Monitor, was making biased, negative edits to the entries of groups that it regularly targeted, specifically the Israeli human-rights organization B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch, while making biased, positive edits to NGO Monitor’s entry page as well as the page of the organization’s president, Gerald Steinberg.

Since then, the focus of pro-Israel groups has continued unabated and has now come to officially include support from Israel’s government. This formal Israel-Wikipedia alliance began in 2014 as “a collaborative program to train history, geography and science teachers to guide their students in editing and adding to Wikipedia articles,” which was forged between Jan-Bart de Vreede, then-chairman of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, and Shai Piron, who was then Israel’s education minister.

Lila Tretikov Netanyahu Israel Wikipedia

Netanyahu meets Wikimedia Foundation executive director Lila Tretikov in 2015. Photo | Israel GPO

Piron told the Jerusalem Post of the project:

It is important for us that the education system in Israel will lead the innovation and collaboration with Wikipedia and provide a wonderful opportunity to think outside the box and allow students in Israel to do things which will also influence others.”

A year after the initiative began, Israel began receiving its first tools to make editing Wikipedia easier, tools that were not available to other countries. One of these tools made available first to Israelis was described by the Jerusalem Post as “a special translation tool to help recreate Wikipedia content in different languages.” As a consequence, the report noted, “the tool will help editors translate Wikipedia pages between Hebrew and Arabic, which could mean the Arab world will soon be reading Wikipedia articles made in Israel.”

The provision of these tools to Israel first was part of an initiative by the then-executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, Lila Tretikov. Those Israel-exclusive initiatives were announced less than two weeks after Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales, received a $1 million prize from Tel Aviv University for what the prize committee claimed was Wales’ efforts in leading the “information revolution.”

Jimmy Wales Wikipedia Israel

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales speaks at the ‘Facing Tomorrow’ conference in Israel in 2009. Tara Todras-Whitehill | AP

Wales has long made it no secret that he is pro-Israel, having visited the country more than ten times per his own count, leading The Times of Israel to note in 2015 that “While Wikipedia strives for objectivity on Israel, Wales is unabashedly pro.” Years prior, in 2011, when Wales attended the Israeli Presidential Conference, he told Israeli media that “I’m a strong supporter of Israel, so I don’t listen to those critics.”


A glaring double standard

The successful blacklisting of MintPress News on Wikipedia comes at a time when Israel’s government and pro-Israel organizations are investing more time and money than ever before into the virtual realm in an effort to control the narrative, an effort that has grown in scope in response to the success of the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and increased international awareness about the Israeli occupation and human rights abuses targeting Palestinians.

These online “battles” are openly described as part of a “war” by Israeli government officials, particularly top-ranking officials in Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs. For example, Brigadier-General Sima Vaknin-Gil, director-general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, has described the battle against BDS as war and has argued that BDS and its supporters “can be curbed and contained through public diplomacy and soft tools.”

“In order to win, however, we must use tricks and craftiness. The bottom line is the rival has moved from its comfort zone into our comfort zone. Today the rival is on the defense and we are on the offensive,” Vaknin-Gil stated in 2017.

As this article has shown, MintPress was recently targeted by “tricks and craftiness” on Wikipedia, which used a minor copy-and-paste hyperlink placement error that was corrected after publication to justify blacklisting the entire website and smearing our content as “unreliable.” Yet, while MintPress has been targeted for minor, corrected errors, Wikipedia editors have had no complaints about damaging “fake news” from news outlets like the Wall Street Journal.

The Journal recently published an article titled “While Trump and Kim Talk, North Korea Appears to Expand Its Nuclear Arsenal,” which was based on the fabricated claim that analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) stated that North Korea could have produced as many as 12 nuclear weapons since U.S. and North Korean leadership met last June in Singapore. While the premise of the article was false and this was later noted in a correction, the article has stayed online and continues to be used to argue against a diplomatic resolution and in favor of a military resolution to North Korea’s nuclear program.

Despite this recent, damaging example of “fake news,” the Wall Street Journal remains a reliable source on Wikipedia, as do other outlets like Buzzfeed News and the Washington Post that have also published fabricated claims in the past. It appears clear that the standards for “fake news” with some partisan Wikipedia editors appear to shift when an outlet reports critically on Israeli government policy.

Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.

Republish our stories! MintPress News is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.

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