Why Did Wikipedia Block Entry on Israeli Self-immolator Moshe Silman?

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Two and half weeks ago, I searched for the entry "Moshe Silman" in Hebrew Wikipedia. I was curious to see how a web encyclopedia would cover self-immolation, the role of Silman's action in the social protest, and the public debate which followed.

When I couldn't find such an entry I posted a question on my Facebook page: "How come there still isn't a Moshe Silman entry on Wikipedia? Someone immediately answered: "why don't you write one yourself?"

I thought that was a decent response, and promptly wrote the entry and posted it in Wikipedia.

I didn't encounter an error message, but for some reason the entry wasn't recorded; it seemed like some sort of error. I tried to repost, and then a message popped up in my browser, informing me that there was a "Talk Page," where surfers discuss entries, even if they still don't exist, and that the creation of such an entry was blocked. In other words, whoever will try to create such an entry – won't succeed.

The first effort to create a "Moshe Silman" entry was on July 15, one day after his self-immolation, as I could conclude from the fact that the first entry on the "Talk Page," appeared that day.

The conversation has since continued, reflecting the opinions of those believing that such an entry should be created and those opposed to it. Both sides present many varied arguments.

One contributor wrote that "a person in such a grave medical condition and his relatives should not be forced to be exposed to a superfluousvote or debate that might, indirectly, offend his honor." Another contributor wrote that it was "too early, still unclear, no repercussions. I'm doubtful as to its significance, certainly at this point," and a third wrote, "he isn't no Mohamed Bouazizi, why should there be a separate entry?"

I later found out the person who blocked the entry was a Wikepedia user identified as "Dorit," who used her authorization to block the entry. Dorit is one of only four Hebrew "Wikipeds," the highest authority in the Hebrew Wikepedia.

After reading the Talk Page I wrote Dorit through her userpage, and asked asked her to contact me so I could receive her response. She refused, but wrote me that "the entry was never 'blocked' to registered Wikipedia users, but protected from anonymous writers for a short period. This was done, to protect Moshe Silman's honor, and in consideration of his dear ones in their difficult hour. For more than a week now, the entry has been available for writing and editing to registered and anonymous users alike."

Following her response I contacted David Shay, the first Hebrew Wikiped, who has already discussed Wikipedia matters with the press many times.

Shay, who wasn't involved in the discussion of the Silman entry, isn't positive it merits an entry. On the one hand he compared Silman to Jan Palach, who set himself on fire when the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, but believes this comparison does not justify a Silman entry in Hebrew: "Such an action, when a man commits self-immolation not as a personal matter is significant, but I can't be positive about that. He's not in Palach's league."

On the other hand Shay said: "No one would dream of writing an entry about Silman in the Hebrew Encyclopedia. But that is, obviously, a very weak excuse because Wikipedia isn't a conventional encyclopedia. In this case the attitude is very conservative. As far as the social protest is concerned, I believe we have a very conservative attitude. In any case, I don't attach to much importance to the argument that not enough time has elapsed."

As we speak, Shay read Dorit's response and concluded that the entry is no longer blocked. To demonstrate, he decided to try to add the entry himself, but as an anonymous user, so that the editors would possibly refrain from deleting it when they find out who the author was.

The entry was indeed posted, including all of Shay's text. But moments later it was deleted, thus contradicting Dorit's words.

I find it incredible that such an important action as Silman's, that was extensively covered by all local and foreign media outlets, does not appear in the Hebrew Wikipedia, believed to be one of the most important and up-to-date sources. Why is there no entry about Moshe Silman, but there are numerous entries about reality-show celebrities whose influence on society is, at best, meager?

If there is controversy among pundits and the public as to the reasons for Silman's self-immolation, why can't these different opinions be presented, or, at the very least, post an entry that would spell out the known facts? Why on earth would an entry on Silman, whose action spurred widespread responses among the public and was directly referred to by the Prime Minister, be blocked?

Another, obvious question, is whether the entry was blocked due to the supporting editors personal opinions.

Wikipedia editors have argued lengthily about creating entries dealing with the social protest leaders, ever since the attempt to create an entry dealing with Daphni Leef. Reading the Talk Page one can conclude it was written, then deleted, and reposted on August 3 2011.

There was a heated argument concerning Stav Shafir as well, but in her case, on October 11, as can be seen on the Talk Page, it was decided to block the entry, by a vote of 31-22. For that reason there still isn't an entry about Stav Shafir, despite her obvious importance to Israeli politics.

Foreign Wikipedia versions are flooded by controversial entries. The Wikipedia regulations do not ignore them, but rather supply concise procedures and tools to tackle such issues.

The worst thing that can happen is that entry that should exist, is completely blocked, instead of being posted in a manner that deals with the controversy.


1. Today, August 8th, the entry "Moshe Silman," was created. Still, the following note was added: "the encyclopaedic importance of the entry isn't clarified in its content, according to the opinion of this editor. You're requested to expand the entry in order to remove all doubts, or explain its importance in the Talk Page. These discussions are usually limited to one week. If during the week a Wikiped with full voting rights, other than this editor, will not offer a reasoned justification to leave the entry, it will be deleted."

2. One user, ladyS wrote: Wikipedia carries an entry abut Yelena Businov, who set herself alight in protest of the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Moshe Silman's funeral, July 22, 2012.Credit: Ofer Vaknin