Sunday, February 1, 2009

You Can Write Anti-Israel Screeds Based on What You Read on Wikipedia and the Columbus Dispatch Will Print it as if it Were an Op-Ed

The following is a letter I wrote to the Columbus Dispatch in response to a piece they published in the Saturday edition of the paper titled Mideast conflict is based on land, not religion.

I would like to address the editorial board of the Dispatch about its decision to publish Aghlaba Peerzada’s letter, “Mideast conflict is based on land, not religion." This letter was published in such a fashion that it looked like an op-ed from the newspaper. I would say therefore that this letter should be treated, for all intents and purposes, as an op-ed and that the editorial board should be judged as if they had printed Mr. Peerzada’s piece as an op-ed.

I am sure there are many people out there who will to respond to Mr. Peerzada’s claims about Israel. I am interested, though, in the Dispatch’s decision to give him the kind of forum that it did. I understand and fully agree that the Dispatch should present a wide variety of viewpoints, particularly those viewpoints that are likely to shock and offend readers. So I have no objection if the Dispatch chooses to print pieces like Mr. Peerzada's that claim that Israel is carrying out a Holocaust. (Just as long as the Dispatch is consistent and gives similar prominent placement to letters from the Klu Klux Klan accusing blacks of perpetrating a racial genocide against whites or from flat-earthers.)

What caught my attention was that Mr. Peerzada used Wikipedia as a source. According to Mr. Peerzada:

According to the Wikipedia article "Land and Property Laws in Israel," these are some guiding principles:
• ‘The imperative to physically acquire and colonize lands vacated by Palestinians who fled or were expelled, and to prevent their return.’
• ‘The necessity of legalizing such land acquisitions in order to pre-empt any future claims made by refugees or their descendants.’
• ‘The goal of proceeding with the nationalization/Judaization process in areas of the country where Arabs still predominated.’
• The Ministry of Agriculture's right to confiscate wasteland under the guise of cultivation.
Also, the Wikipedia article said there were several absentee property laws, which were introduced as emergency ordinances issued by the Jewish leadership but which after the 1948 war were incorporated into the laws of Israel.

I teach history at the Ohio State University and one of the first things I teach my students is that Wikipedia is not an authoritative source of information and should not be used as evidence when writing a paper. Anyone can write whatever they wish on Wikipedia, without any controlling authority. For all I know Mr. Peerzada could have written the Wikipedia article himself. Again, I do not object to the Dispatch printing the ramblings and ravings of anti-Zionists. It would seem reasonable to ask, though, that the Dispatch should demand some basic standard of evidence and insist on something above the level of Wikipedia.

Mr. Peerzada clearly does not understand the meaning of critical writing. This Spring I will be teaching History 112. I extend a personal invitation to him to attend my class in order to learn about critical writing, particularly as it relates to dealing with historical events. Since it seems that the editorial board is just as ignorant they are also invited.


Miss S. said...

And since when does the media care about backing up journalism with viable sources? I think that rule went out sometime in the the 1970s.

Gusto the Horrendo said...

But Wikipedia can be so much fun!...