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Wikipedia now labels the top Jewish civil rights group as an unreliable source

Nikolas Kokovlis/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

Wikipedia’s editors declared that the Anti-Defamation League cannot be trusted to give reliable information on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and they overwhelmingly said the ADL is an unreliable source on antisemitism. It’s a stunning rebuke to one of the world’s preeminent authorities on anti-Jewish hate and a significant advocate for the rights and causes of American Jews.

The editors, a group of volunteer moderators for one of the world’s most popular information websites, voted last week to label the ADL as a “generally unreliable” source on the Israel-Palestine conflict. That means that the ADL should usually not be cited in Wikipedia articles on that topic except for extraordinary circumstances. Other generally unreliable sources, according to Wikipedia editors, include Russian state media, Fox News’ political coverage and Amazon reviews.

The ADL also faces a vote from Wikipedia editors to potentially label the organization as unreliable on the topic of antisemitism. The editors overwhelmingly support that label but continue to debate the decision, which could ultimately deal a blow to the credibility of the leading source of research and information on antisemitism. JTA was first to report the vote.

The Wikipedia editors said in an online forum that the ADL’s dual role as an advocacy and research organization prevented it from providing unbiased accounts on Israel or antisemitism.

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“The ADL is heavily biased regarding Israel/Palestine to the point of often acting as a pro-Israel lobbying organization,” wrote an editor with the username Loki, who has edited more than 3,000 Wikipedia articles. “This can and does compromise its ability to accurately report facts regarding people and organizations that disagree with it on this issue, especially non-Zionist or anti-Zionist Jews and Jewish organizations.”

A minority of editors disagreed, arguing the editors voting in favor failed to provide evidence that the ADL has made false claims because of its advocacy work.

The ADL strongly rebuked the decision.

“It is deeply disturbing that the many editors who flagged the severe flaws and inaccuracies in both the reasoning and sources being used in this campaign to delegitimize ADL are being ignored,” an ADL spokesman said in a statement. “They have provided point by point refutations, grounded in factual citations, to every claim made, but apparently facts no longer matter.”

Calling the decision “a sad development for research and education” and “devastating for the Jewish community and society,” the ADL said it would continue its work to fight antisemitism. But the spokesman warned Wikipedia’s action would prevent information on antisemitism from reaching the public.

ADL adapts to a changing world

Prior to Hamas’ deadly attack on Israel on October 7, the ADL had been largely focused on educating about and advocating for action against the rise in antisemitism around the world. That alarming trend included (and continues to include) a growing number of threats and anti-Jewish actions taken by White supremacist groups, and ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt became a frequent guest on television news, such as CNN.

After the events of October 7 and the ongoing war that followed, the ADL produced numerous reports about rising antisemitic hate speech and incidents, particularly on college campuses. It produced two report cards on universities’ actions to protect Jewish students, giving failing grades to more than a dozen colleges.

But the ADL faced some criticism for doubling down on what some detractors believed was an overly broad definition of antisemitism that included anti-Zionism and some anti-Israel speech and actions.

“ADL’s leadership has taken a much more aggressive stance than most academic researchers in blurring the distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism,” said James Loeffler, professor of modern Jewish history at John Hopkins University. “It’s clear from reading the Wikipedia editors’ conversation that they are heavily influenced by the ADL leadership’s comments.”

Greenblatt and the ADL made clear that political opposition to Israel’s government and policies were acceptable and not antisemitic. But those who denied Jews had the right to self-determination and freedom in their homeland were antisemitic, according to the ADL.

“Let’s make this very clear: Anti-Zionism is antisemitism,” Greenblatt said at an ADL “State of Hate” event in March. “Antizionism is a negation of Jewish history, a denial of Jewish humanity.”

That didn’t sit well with Wikipedia’s editors. For example, one editor, with the username Sameboat, claimed the ADL leader’s advocacy “demonstrates its skewed views and manipulative presentation on the IP (Israel-Palestine) topic and thus (is) highly unreliable.”

Balancing advocacy with trusted information

The ADL has built an expertise in tracking antisemitic threats and hate groups and has done beneficial work in providing the world with information and data about antisemitism, particularly because so few organizations are doing that kind of research, noted Loeffler. And the fact that the ADL balances advocacy with research is not a new problem for the organization.

But Wikipedia’s decision may reflect a changing landscape that the ADL needs to reckon with. The war in Gaza has deeply divided people of all backgrounds, including Jews. The war has added significant ambiguity and complications to the world’s view of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

If Wikipedia’s editors are distancing themselves from the ADL, that could suggest media, academic and partnering advocacy organizations will think twice about how they approach ADL data in their own efforts to inform their audiences on antisemitism.

“The challenge to the ADL is to separate the advocacy from the data when it comes to the overall message,” Loeffler said. “I think this is going to be a difficult blow to the credibility to the ADL in its role on this issue. The staff there will continue to do rigorous work, but this will provide an opportunity for self-reflection.”

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