The Wikipedia editor “Newmanthfc” has made approximately 80 edits to a number of Wikipedia articles since April 2008. As acknowledged by “Newmanthfc,” he is David Newman, originally from the UK and today a professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, Israel.
The vast majority of Newman’s edits involve self-promotion, particularly regarding his academic career and ideological causes. Despite a warning from an administrator that “You have an obvious conflict of interest with this, suggesting that you are not the best person to write the article,” he created his own Wikipedia article. Unsurprisingly, initially it read like a “self-written bio, no sources, in style of a resume.” He presented himself as “A noted peace activist in Israel and international expert on borders”, and lavished praise on his own work (“The most comprehensive analyses of Gush Emunim have been carried out by David Newman”), celebrating what he claims is activity to counter UK academic boycotts of Israel, and referencing his own academic writings in a number of Wikipedia articles.
He even listed himself as amongst the notable alumni of two British schools.
He has also vandalized the articles of ideological opponents and academic rivals, copying content that appears repeatedly in his Jerusalem Post column. Newman has focused this activity on the Israeli political advocacy organization Im Tirzu, as well as Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University and head of NGO Monitor.
Newman’s editing of his personal Wikipedia entry, as well as NGO Monitor’s, resulted in an edit war, in which Newman blatantly violated Wikipedia rules, and he was sanctioned with a 48-hour ban. However, he continues to refer to himself in the third-person in his edit summaries (short descriptions of edits that appear in the history pages of articles), suggesting that he is seeking to obscure the clear conflict of interest.This is reminiscent, albeit on a smaller scale, of the Wikipedia behavior of another Israeli professor, Amiram Goldblum.
A repeat offender: Edit wars and other Wikipedia troubles
Newman was called out for an “obvious conflict of interest” already in September 2008, although no sanctions were administered at that time.
In November 2008, it was recommended that the David Newman article be deleted from Wikipedia because, as written by Newman, it read like a “self-written bio, no sources, in style of a resume.” During the deletion discussion, the article was changed, and remained on Wikipedia.
More egregiously, Newman also engaged in “edit warring” - a serious violation of basic Wikipedia rules and norm of etiquette. The edit war took place on both the David Newman and the NGO Monitor articles on January 8, 2011.
The edits included Newman’s removal of any factual material that criticized Newman, even though it was sourced to reliable online publications, as per Wikipedia standards and rules. He also added unreferenced editorial comments in order to support his cause.
Newman, using the Newmanthfc username, was joined in by an anonymous internet user (184.108.40.206), whose internet address is assigned to Ben-Gurion University, where Newman works.
Both Newmanthfc and the anonymous user were warned about their abusive and unproductive edits and were reported to the Wikipedia Administrater’s noticeboard on January 10. Administrators decided on a 48-hour ban (though most first time violators receive a 24-hour ban).
Edits promoting Newman’s academic work
The very first edits made by Newmanthfc (April 19, 2008) were to Wikipedia’s Gush Emunim article, engaging in self-promotion (“The most comprehensive analyses of Gush Emunim have been carried out by David Newman”) and adding references to four of his own publications on the subject.
In September 2008, Newman listed himself in the Border article as a “leading scholar in the contemporary study of borders,” as part of “a renaissance in the study of borders in the past two decades.”
In April and June 2009, and then again in February 2011, Newman made edits to the Academic boycotts of Israel article. In April 2009, he first added a reference to an article he wrote in the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs; seven minutes later, he included a paragraph (with a typo) on the substance on attempts to boycott Israel. On June 20, 2009, Newman added a number of sentences, basically repeating the argument of his Jerusalem Post column of June 6.
His February 2011 edits to that page consisted of more self-promoting, adding
This was particularly the position taken by the representtaives (sic) of Israel's universities in the UK, Professor David Newman who, while countering the attempts at academic boycott, did not see all such activity as being inherently anti-semitic. Newman, the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University in Israel, focused his activities on strengthening scientific and academic links between Israel and the UK, and was influential in creating the BIRAX research and scientiric (sic) cooperation agreement between the two countries - an agreement which was promoted by successive British Ambassadors to Israel, Tom Philips and Matthew Gould, and which has been funded, amongst othersm (sic) by the Pears Foundation in London.
Creation of and edits on the “David Newman” article
In October 2008, Newman created the article “David Newman (geographer),” subsequently moving it to “David Newman (Professor of Geopolitics)” because it is a “more accurate description of a person who was a geographer but has moved into the field of political science.” (Newman’s claims of expertise in this field are not supported by any evidence, such as a degree in political science.) It appears that he had tried to create a page about himself in September 2008, but was rebuffed by an administrator because “You have an obvious conflict of interest with this, suggesting that you are not the best person to write the article. This shows in unsourced claims... and non-encyclopaedic non-neutral phrases...”
Newman tried again, producing, as noted above, an article that read like a “self-written bio, no sources, in style of a resume.”
After the deletion controversy, Newman did not edit his article again until July 2009, when he made an insignificant edit related to an academic journal he edits. But, in May 2010, Newman added the following, without providing a reference, “In March 2010, Newman was elected Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences for the period 2010-2013.”
Newman’s next edits involved the abovementioned edit war, when he removed a criticism section from his own article.
His latest edits were on July 7, 2013, when he added two paragraphs, again without any citations, on “information about david Newman relating to the past 4-5 years.” As with his other Wikipedia editing, his addition included self-promotion and ideological attacks.
He writes a weekly oped column in the Jerusalem Post. Many of these articles touch on issues relating to Israeli politics, the Israel-Palestine conflict and the interface of politics and academia. During 2012-2013, Newman was active in defending his University and Department against attempts at right wing political intervention on the part of Israel's Council of Higher Education (the CHE).
He represented Israel's universities in the UK. Despite this, he has been subject to attacks by extremist right wing organizations in Israel, such as Isracampus, Academic Monitor, Im Tirzu, and the NGO Monitor, for his founding and leadership of the Department of Politics and Government at the University and for his left of center political positions on the Arab-Israel conflict. This has not prevented him from being elected, almost unanimously, for a second term of Faculty Dean for the period 2013-2016.
At the time of his edit, he promised, “references will follow in due course.” To date, references have not been added.
Attacks against ideological opponents and academic rivals
Newman’s edits have targeted Im Tirzu repeatedly, and these appear in his Jerusalem Post column as well. For instance, on January 8, 2011, Newman vandalized the Im Tirzu entry, labeling the organization as “ultra right wing anti-Zionist” and claiming that “Its objectives are to impose constraints on the freedom of speech and opinion within the Israeli academic community, through the use of threats against the faculty which do not share their extremist views.”
He has also attacked NGO Monitor, an organization headed by academic rival Gerald Steinberg, from Bar Ilan University. Newman’s violations in these edits resulted in a 48 hour ban (see below). Also on January 8, Newman sought to delegitimize NGO Monitor by labeling the think tank as “an extreme right wing NGO”, adding (with no specifics):
NGO Monitor has been responsible for indiscriminate attacks on all left wing pro-peace NGO's which support human rights and Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation. They have focused their attacks on NGO's funded by the European Union, but have refused to display a balance by investigating right wing NGO's or organizations funded by American donations, for fear of annoying their own North American right wing supporters. NGO Monitor has been responsible for damaging the image of Israel internationally and raising serious questions concerning Israel's continued comitment (sic) to values of democracy and free speech.
Similar statements were made in Newman’s January 10, 2011 column in the Jerusalem Post.
On January 8, 2011, Newman made a petty edit to the NGO Monitor page, changing the description of Steinberg, NGO Monitor’s president.
Edits on Newman’s personal life
Newman’s self-promotion extended to articles related to his personal life. He added himself to the list of notable alumni of Dame Alice Owen’s school (“Prof [[David Newman]], Professor of Political Geography and Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at [[Ben-Gurion University in Israel]], and editor of the International Journal of [[Geopolitics]]. A noted peace activist in Israel and international expert on borders.”), as well as the Hasmonean High School.
Newman also added a reference in a Wikipedia article to one of his columns on his fandom of Tottenham Hotspurs Football Club (which explains his Wikipedia username).