Rep. Ilhan Omar’s Wikipedia Page Scrubbed by Activist Editors

Congressional candidate Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) speaks during a get out the vote event on the University of Minnesota campus on November 3, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After a record-breaking early voting turnout, Americans head to the polls on the last day to cast their vote for incumbent U.S. President …
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Since the election of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Wikipedia editors have been downplaying or removing mention of controversies from her page. This has included minimizing mention of antisemitism controversies over her comments about Israel and its supporters, excluding mention of personal scandals, and censoring details about Turkish lobbying ties. Editors have meanwhile given considerable attention to alleged mistreatment of her by others, particularly President Donald Trump who editors tied to threats Omar received.

Omar’s treatment on Wikipedia regarding antisemitism, where editors have kept such allegations out of her page’s introduction in favor of more benign descriptions of her views on Israel, stands in stark contrast to the harsher treatment of various Republican officials.

Prior statements Omar has made about Israel have been among the most contentious on her Wikipedia page. Omar once referred to Israel having “hypnotized the world” and referred to Israel’s “evil-doings” in comments widely condemned as antisemitic. Efforts to mention this controversy, including in the introduction of her page, began shortly after she announced her candidacy in 2018 for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN). Initially, editors sought to remove mention of the controversy from the page entirely and particularly rejected mentioning it in the introduction of her page.

After Omar was elected to Congress, efforts to remove mention of the controversy resumed. Editors also removed any mention of antisemitism in connection with her past comments about Israel. Despite repeated efforts to keep out any mention of her comments about Israel having “hypnotized the world” or remove the more incendiary details, continued controversy over her past remarks eventually got the details of her remarks and the antisemitism controversy mentioned and expanded.

Comments Omar made after joining Congress accusing pro-Israeli politicians of being paid by the lobbying group AIPAC, which does not make political contributions, prompted further conflict. When this was added and expanded to mention criticism of the remarks as antisemitic, a new fight erupted. One aspect of this fight was over creating an “allegations of anti-Semitism” section for the controversies, which editors repeatedly undid entirely or rephrased to remove any mention of antisemitism from the section heading. An editor also tried to suggest critics of Omar were hypocrites by adding a paragraph accusing Trump and various Republican politicians of antisemitism, though this was eventually removed.

Even further comments by Omar suggesting pro-Israeli politicians were pushing allegiance to a foreign country, which many critics described as a “dual loyality” antisemitic canard, fueled the dispute even more with material added then considerably shortened. Some seized on the increased coverage to restore mention of the antisemitism allegations against Omar to the introduction of her page, becoming the focus of a long-running battle with editors downplaying the allegations or removing them from the introduction altogether, including removing citations mentioning antisemitism. Left-wing and pro-Palestinian Editors even kept mention of her criticism of Israel and AIPAC in the introduction, but removed anything noting that some of her criticism was condemned as antisemitic.

Numerous discussions were initiated about mentioning the antisemitism controversies in the introduction to Omar’s Wikipedia page. Those opposed to any mention in the introduction tried to dismiss the entire controversy as a temporary news story, even though coverage was extensive and some of it extended back months. A formal discussion eventually concluded as supporting a mention in the introduction, though the close suggested re-examining the decision later. Meanwhile, editors fought over how to phrase the brief mention and others added extensive material defending Omar’s comments.

Despite the result and Omar later being denied entry into Israel that year, which even sources editors cited about the entry ban noted in connection with the past antisemitism controversies, editors began unilaterally removing mention of the controversies from the introduction, even portraying removals as mere shortening. Citing the past discussion allowing a re-examination, those opposed to mentioning antisemitism allegations in the introduction of Omar’s page initiated new discussions and insisted the material be kept out until resolved. In a new formal discussion, predominantly left-wing editors had any mention of the controversy excluded from the introduction by claiming the antisemitism allegations were too trivial and not sufficiently associated with Omar.

Scandalous aspects of Omar’s personal history were removed entirely. Omar has been the subject of controversy over her marriage history, such as her being legally married to one man yet living life as a married couple with another man and filing joint taxes with the latter. The former man was suspected by some critics of being Omar’s brother who married her as part of an immigration scheme, which Omar has denied. Discussion of this controversy prompted one editor to attempt at mentioning it on her page, but this was removed despite being mentioned in sources considered reliable on Wikipedia.

Her most recent marriage was also controversial as her current husband’s wife divorced him claiming he had an affair with Omar, another allegation she denied. Edits mentioning this also mentioned her husband was a political consultant whose company received nearly $600,000 from Omar’s campaign. Mention of the payments, following a campaign finance complaint against Omar, was removed and additions after their marriage announcement were also repeatedly removed claiming it was “gossip” despite citing sources considered reliable on Wikipedia. A formal discussion concluded with any mention of the allegations excluded. Some opponents dismissed the story as being from “right-wing or Islamophobic sources” despite editors citing outlets such as ABC News and the Independent.

Controversies involving Omar’s other foreign policy stances were also scrubbed. Mention of her voting “present” on a House resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide was significantly trimmed with criticism that her comments on the matter resembled Turkey’s denialist position consistently excised. Omar receiving campaign contributions from a lobbyist and cousin of Turkish President Recep Erdogan was also removed repeatedly and editors rejected mentioning it despite being sourced.

As editors censored or minimized negative information about Omar, many also portrayed her as a sympathetic victim. One editor created a section for “targeting” and included cases such as an Islamophobic poster at a West Virginia Republican party event, though the party was not responsible for and condemned the poster, and gas station bathroom graffiti threatening Omar. Comments by Fox News host Jeanine Pirro questioning whether Omar wearing the hijab signified adherence to sharia law, which Pirro criticized as inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution, were also included under “Islamophobic comments” in the section. While this was removed with even left-wing editors questioning its inclusion, it was eventually restored months later.

In addition to extensively mentioning threats and harassment, Wikipedia editors tied those threats to Trump himself. After mentioning the New York Post criticizing Omar for saying “some people did something” in reference to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, comments seen as trivializing the attacks, editors significantly expanded this by claiming Trump retweeted “selectively-edited” video of her comments and noting various Democrats, including Omar herself, suggested this put her in danger. Editors linked other threats to Trump by association. Trump suggesting Omar and other “Squad” members return to their places of origin to fix problems there was also added in significant detail with Omar’s attacks on Trump and supportive comments included uncritically.

Unlike with the antisemitism controversies, editors were quick to include harassment and threats in the introduction of Omar’s page. This eventually came to include claiming she is subject to “false and misleading claims” by Trump. After discussion led to removal of the antisemitism controversies from her intro, an editor tried to remove the “harassment” material as well, but left-wing editors insisted only the antisemitism controversies were too unimportant to mention prominently, even though both sections are roughly the same size and the introduction under site guidelines is meant to summarize the article. Instead, the introduction now only contains a bare description of Omar being critical of Israeli and associated lobbying groups.

Treatment of Omar on Wikipedia clashes significantly with treatment of her Republican colleagues. House Rep. Steve King (R-IA) was described in his page’s introduction as making “racist” statements “against Jews” in reference to King criticizing left-wing billionaire George Soros for supporting mass-immigration. Despite being based on a single brief news incident, unlike the persistent coverage Omar received, over a year-and-a-half passed before that line was eventually removed and an “Anti-Semitism controversy” section added at the time still remains on his page. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) also had a lengthy paragraph in his page’s introduction attacking him for criticizing Soros, which stayed up for over a month.

Such double standards are common on Wikipedia. Numerous conservative figures such as Fox News hosts Mark Levin and Tucker Carlson, as well as black conservative Candace Owens, have been subjected to smear campaigns by editors along with President Trump himself. At the same time left-wing figures such as Sarah Jeong of the New York Times have been protected from criticism over their bigoted histories and editors have sanitized pages of others such as Joe Biden’s nominated “Coronavirus Czar” and his Vice Presidential pick Kamala Harris, part of general efforts supporting Biden’s 2020 campaign, which included suppressing negative stories about the foreign business dealings of his son Hunter.

Double standards in Wikipedia’s treatment of conservative and left-wing figures is consistent with studies and analyses showing the site has a left-wing bias, a bias criticized by the site’s own co-founder. However, Wikipedia has been praised by corporate media as a counter to “fake news” in keeping with messaging by the site owners, which has encouraged a purge of conservative media from the site and was originally suggested by a public relations firm tied to the Clintons. This strategy apparently bore fruit elsewhere as Wikipedia has been incorporated into efforts against “misinformation” by Big Tech and the World Health Organization. It is also relied on by media and academics.

T. D. Adler edited Wikipedia as The Devil’s Advocate. He was banned after privately reporting conflict of interest editing by one of the site’s administrators. Due to previous witch-hunts led by mainstream Wikipedians against their critics, Adler writes under an alias.

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