ADL is no longer “generally reliable” source of information, Wikipedia editors say. Why that matters.

As someone who teaches research methods, one of the key issues my students learn, in the first two weeks is identifying reliable sources of information. In the literature review stage, the goal is to identify sources of information – either government, private or even individual, that could be considered “reliable.” My own method of teaching and hierarchy of reliable sources (in the decreasing order of reliability):

  • peer-reviewed articles
  •  books
  • Thinktanks
  •  advocacy group reports
  • Blogs
  • Vlogs
  • Podcasts (depending on who produces them)

While I have used ADL reports myself, as a scholar, the recent turn towards becoming a mouth-piece for Israel has cost the group a lot, as the Wikipedia editors point out.

As the Independent wrote recently, ““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,” an editor known as Iskandar323, who prompted the discussion about the ADL, wrote in a debate thread.”

For those paying attention to the Israel and its “war on children” as UNICEF described it, the recent ban on Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as a reliable source of information on Wikipedia should have come as a surprise. I am familiar with both these organizations and have followed their work, somewhat closely. As a former PR/ Public Affairs practitioner myself, I am aware of the power of advocacy groups such as ADL (for Jews) and CAIR (for the Arab-American communities) in shaping public opinion about their constituents.

The Israeli/ American debacle in communications is showing us the limits of PR. The US State Department is increasingly starting to sound like the State Department of the State of Israel, not the U.S.

As a democracy, we Americans pride ourselves on equal rights, opportunities for all. Our whole motto is “Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness.” However, our government is acting in ways that is denying these to millions of Palestinians by aiding in a fruitless, thankless and wasteful war of attrition, that much of the world is opposed to. There has never been, at least, in my memory such great dissonance between our words and actions.

The question of neutrality and fairness is also at play here. As any practitioner of media knows, while advocacy groups create their own version of truth, newsmedia are supposed to fact-check these sources and prevent mis-use of data.  The Wikipedia editors had something to say about this too . The Independent reports that “More than just a dispute over data, though, the Wikipedia editors argued that ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt often acts as more of a partisan actor in the Israel-Palestine conversation than a neutral source of information.”

From a professional communications perspective, this is a classic case study, for those who want to study it of a crisis communications strategy gone wrong.

Why is this significant? This is significant for many reasons: for one, it tells us that a group of editors (Wikipedia is peer-reviewed) find ADL data problematic. This is peer-review consensus, which should be taken seriously (yes, even if it is Wikipedia).

To be fair, in a conflict, everyone does their propaganda. However, the challenge for ADL and others is that there is a limit to people’s tolerance of lies. They are trying to justify war crimes, and this is when reasonable start turning away from them. Wikipedia’s ban on ADL is nothing but a case of a group of reasonable editors coming together to say “enough is enough”, and put an end to endless manipulation of ideas and concepts – the key one being “anti-semitism”. Gideon Levy, an Israeli journalist lays to bear some of these contradictions here.

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