The Mystery of the Wikipedia Editor Who Obsessively Keeps Track of Jews

April 29, 2020 | Edward Kosner
About the author:

Not very long ago, the journalist and editor Edward Kosner checked his Wikipedia page and noticed that it had been updated to state—accurately—that he “was born to a Jewish family.” He comments:

I’m a proud if non-observant Jew, but my religious origin had never been mentioned, [save one exception], in the many articles that have been written about me over the years. . . . I felt that the introduction of my religion in Wikipedia was intrusive since I’d edited topical magazines like Newsweek and New York, not Jewish-oriented ones like, say, Commentary. . . . Besides, I rarely if ever came across religious affiliation noted in Wikipedia biographies of other secular journalists and writers. So I set about stripping the reference from my entry, only to find that I’d been barred by Wikipedia from editing my own biography.

After sending the online encyclopedia a message that he’d consider making a donation if he could get answers to his queries about the subject, Kosner made some discoveries:

[A] volunteer Wikipedia “editor” had been inserting Jewish origin in the entries of prominent journalists and writers. . . . In two weeks, [Kosner’s contact at Wikipedia, who goes by the name Coffee], found more than 250 intrusions he considered inappropriate in entries of not-previously-identified Jewish “notables” and 1,142 in Wikipedia’s lists of Jews in 32 fields. . . . And there were hundreds more articles to vet. Most of the “Jew-tagging” had been in articles about notables in media and writing, but Jews in finance and retail were involved, too. Reviewing “tens of thousands” of interventions by one “editor,” Coffee found that he or she had added religious descriptors almost exclusively for Jews. Besides that “editor,” there was at least one other active Jew-tagger. These intrusions had been going on for a while but had intensified lately.

That prompted me to check the Wikipedia entries of prominent Gentile journalists and writers to see how their religious affiliations were described. My friend Pete Hamill’s entry reports that his parents were Irish immigrants, but it doesn’t mention that he was raised a Roman Catholic. The late Jimmy Breslin deployed his Irish-American persona in his columns and famously in a Piel’s beer commercial, but there’s no mention of his ethnicity or religion in the appropriate portion of his Wikipedia entry.

But whether the editor who made these insertions was motivated by anti-Semitism, obsession, Jewish pride , or perhaps a mere zeal for thoroughness—we’ll never know.

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