The Wiki wars

The Jewish Internet with Mark Mietkiewicz, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer

Mark Mietkiewicz
Mark Mietkiewicz

It is the sixth most popular website on the planet. It has become the go-to repository for information replacing venerable — and dusty — encyclopedias. And it’s where controversy over Israel and Judaism are a daily affair. Welcome to the Wikipedia edit wars.

If you are like most people, you visit Wikipedia to read up on practically any topic under the sun. While the text may seem pretty sedate and respectful, each page has tabs labeled Talk and View History where you are likely to discover cauldrons boiling with arguments, sarcasm and worse. That’s where Wikipedia editors hash out controversial content and attempt to reach some type of consensus.

A typical debate raging behind the scenes is whether the Wikipedia Israel page should carry an infobox describing Tel Aviv as the country’s “second capital (” Or whether Jerusalem should be described as “the third holiest city in Islam” or “generally considered the third holiest city in Islam (”

Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, has noticed these debates but he’s not worried that accuracy is being warped.

“Topics relating to Israel and Palestine are…in the group of articles that are always heavily edited, heavily discussed, heavily debated…and of course it will happen every day that someone will come in with an agenda, in any direction, trying to push that agenda, but the community is quite vigilant about trying to be neutral, trying to follow reliable sources, and I think in general we succeed (”

Wales is referring to some of the ground rules designed to keep Wikipedia content as accurate — and the discussion as civil — as possible. If you follow them, you too are welcome to join in. But break a rule and your contribution will probably disappear in minutes. Here’s a tutorial to get you going editing Wikipedia (

You don’t have to be passionate about Israel to find debate. Researchers recently sized up the 10 most controversial topics in each of the most popular language versions of Wikipedia. Here’s a sampling of topics causing waves: Circumcision (English), Muhammad (Arabic), Adolph Hitler (German), Criticism of the Koran (Persian), Telepathy (Czech), Islamophobia (French). The full research is available online and is a fascinating read (

What do Israelis (or at least Hebrew-speakers) like to argue about on Wikipedia? Just about everything from religion to politics with some sports thrown in for good measure. Here are The Top 10 Controversial Entries in the Hebrew Wikipedia (

10. Ariel Sharon
9. Beitar Jerusalem F.C. (football club)
8. Gaza War
7. Daphni Leef (Israeli social activist and organizer of a Tel Aviv tent camp, sparking the 2011 housing protests in Israel.)
6. Jewish settlement in Hebron
5. Benjamin Netanyahu
4. B’Tselem (Israeli non-governmental organization)
3. 2006 Lebanon War
2. Chabad messianism
1. Chabad

Sometimes, arguments are best kept in the family. Over at the Judaism entry some people feel there are just too many photos depicting Ashkenazi-orientated Jewish objects. How’s this rebuttal: “Like which photo? The shofar, the chanukia, the mezuza, the Jerusalem succah? If these objects are Ashkenazi oriented, you seem to imply that Sephardi people don’t do mitzvot!…Take your inferiority complex somewhere else, please (”

Mark Mietkiewicz may be reached at

To read the complete May 2014 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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