User:MutantPlatypus/Reliable Sources Noticeboard in Action

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Two separate books report 1990 Nelson Mandela quote[edit]

This sentence has been rejected from an article because it is apparently inadequately sourced, despite two notable books discussing the quote: In 1990, Nelson Mandela said of the PLO, "We are in the same trench struggling against the same enemy: the twin Tel Aviv and Pretoria regimes, apartheid, racism, colonialism and neo-colonialism." The sources used for this statement are the following:

  • The Jewish wars: reflections by one of the belligerents pg.76, Alexander, Edward (1996). [1]
  • The Scientifization of Culture pg.258, Riedjik, Cornelis Willem (1994). [2]

Note that these books source the quote from two different newspapers, both on the date of 20th June 1990 - the first The New York Post, the second Wall Street Journal Europe. This is plausible because Mandela was in the United States at the time and was bound to be asked his opinion on the Arab-Israeli conflict. He had previously met Yasser Arafat and warmly embraced him, and upon Arafat's death praised him as "the greatest freedom fighter of his generation". So the quote is quite plausible.

Another user is arguing that the quote is fabricated, but both books are completely different in subject, tone and origin yet refer to the same date but different newspapers. The Scientifization of Culture is by a Dutch author and was likely originally written in Dutch (I am not sure). The Jewish Wars is written by a strongly pro-Israel author and it is not clear why a pro-Israel advocate would fabricate a quote seemingly associating the PLO with a highly popular, praised figure like Mandela. Who fabricated and why? If it was fabricated it should appear in pro-Palestinian literature, which it does not.

If anyone has access to the archives of either of the news publications mentioned going back to 1990 we could settle this matter for good; and even other newspapers at the same date might have mentioned the quote. Factsontheground (talk) 03:35, 14 March 2010 (UTC)

I just found an article about Mandela praising the PLO written on the 22nd of June 1990 - two days after the other quote is alleged to have been made - in the The Seattle Times. In particular the following is interesting:

NEW YORK - On his second day in the United States, Nelson Mandela showed why he is not only one of the world's most admired figures, but also one of the most controversial.

At a town hall meeting in Harlem televised nationally last night, the deputy president of the African National Congress praised Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and Cuban leader Fidel Castro. He called them ``comrades in arms in black South Africa's struggle against the white minority government.

Mandela said the three leaders, viewed as enemies by the U.S. government, have been friends in need to the ANC, which is seeking to end apartheid's policy of racial separation in South Africa.

Mandela's comments, on the second day of an eight-city U.S. tour that is to take him to Washington Sunday, seemed all the more controversial because the rest of his New York visit has been wrapped in a cocoon of celebratory rhetoric and cheering.

Arafat, Gadhafi and Castro ``support our struggle to the hilt, he said. ``There is no reason whatsoever why we should have any hesitation about hailing their commitment to human rights.

Mandela said his attitude toward any country is shaped by that country's support of the anti-apartheid movement.

``They fully support our struggle, not only with rhetoric, but by putting resources at our disposal, he said.

Mandela's support of the PLO has angered U.S. Jewish leaders and prompted demonstrations against him here.

This proves that the original quote would have been perfectly plausible for Mandela to have made at that time, given his then- political beliefs. In particular, Mandela mentions apartheid in the original quote and here as the reason for his support of the PLO. Factsontheground (talk) 03:53, 14 March 2010 (UTC)

I found the quote in an unsigned editorial titled "Mr. Mandela's Friends", page A20, in the June 19, 1990 Wall Street Journal. The editorial does not provide any further context, such as when and where Mandela said this. Gamaliel (talk) 04:10, 14 March 2010 (UTC)

Nelson Mandela's words are listened to by millions, and only a tiny number of sources record that sentence? The source I found is a syndicated column from Pat Buchanan, which is probably the New York Post "article" cited by one of the books in question. The Seattle Times article is assembled from wire reports and other sources, and I question its veracity. — Malik Shabazz Talk/Stalk 04:21, 14 March 2010 (UTC)
Thanks for the research Gamaliel and Malik, I appreciate it.
But I have to say I am confused. Why would editorialists in high-circulation newspapers like the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal fabricate a highly controversial quote and attribute it to a public figure? If the quote was a fabrication then why didn't Mandela's lawyers sue Buchanan/WSJ into oblivion? Both newspapers are read by thousands, the NY Post in particular is read by many Israel supporters, and nobody thought to complain about a fabricated quote saying that the massively popular Mandela supported a hated figure like Arafat?
Anyway, it seems odd that if the quote was fabricated by Buchanan that an editorial in the WSJ on the very same day would also mention it; or vice-versa. If it was fabricated there had to have been an earlier source both Buchanan and the WSJ got it from. Which would have been what?
"Nelson Mandela's words are listened to by millions, and only a tiny number of sources record that sentence?" No offence, Malik, but this seems like an argument from personal incredulity. Perhaps the massive controversy about the later statements he made on the 22nd overshadowed his earlier comments. But it's just one sentence. There's probably many sentences he made that are not recorded in many sources. Factsontheground (talk) 05:05, 14 March 2010 (UTC)
Okay, I found the quote in the Chicago Tribune now. [3]. This is conclusive, IMO. Factsontheground (talk) 05:12, 14 March 2010 (UTC)
You've hit a right-wing trifecta: The Wall Street Journal editorial page, Pat Buchanan, and Mona Charen. Polemicists, but not reliable sources. — Malik Shabazz Talk/Stalk 05:22, 14 March 2010 (UTC)
So all these different people wrote incendiary editorials about a fabricated quote and nobody thought to complain, particularly not Mandela himself? Even if those 3 are individually unreliable, why would all 3 choose to fabricate exactly the same quote? It just doesn't make sense at all unless Mandela actually said that.Factsontheground (talk) 05:29, 14 March 2010 (UTC)
(written before the following section) What I'm saying is that Mandela's "quote" was one of the conservative "talking points" that week, intended to detract from his historic visit to the U.S. Ask yourself, why hasn't this quote appeared in any of the hundreds (thousands?) of books written about Mandela? Why can't you find it in a book about Palestine? The fact that this "quote" appears only in syndicated columns and right-wing newspaper editorials should give you a hint that there's something fishy about it. — Malik Shabazz Talk/Stalk 06:16, 14 March 2010 (UTC)


The current situation[edit]

The Mandela quote has been sourced back to the editorial of the Wall Street Journal and two opinion pieces in the New York Post (by Pat Buchanan) and in the Chicago Tribune (by Mona Charen), the first 2 on June 20 1990, the latter on June 25. This can all be confirmed with Google news archive.

Malik Shabazz is arguing (apologies if this is a misrepresentation) that because each source is individually unreliable that the quote is not acceptable. I am arguing that the combination of the 3 sources, particularly the WSJ editorial (which is fact-checked by the WSJ editorial board), is reliable enough for the quote to be acceptable on Wikipedia. Factsontheground (talk) 06:09, 14 March 2010 (UTC)

As far as I know, there is no fact-checking that is undertaken to verify syndicated columns or newspaper editorials. That's why they are not considered reliable sources, ever, except for the opinions they express. — Malik Shabazz Talk/Stalk 06:19, 14 March 2010 (UTC)
Ah, sorry, I guess I assumed that because the editorial board took responsibility for the uncredited editorials (as opposed to the credited opeds) they would have the columns fact checked. It's disappointing that such high circulation publications don't bother to do fact-checking... Factsontheground (talk) 07:03, 14 March 2010 (UTC)
I wouldn't dismiss Malik's concerns. I have them as well. If a quote only appears as a talking point and can't be traced to it's original source, I wonder how useful and valuable this particular quote is for an encyclopedia article. Do other sources not cover the same ground? What is the encyclopedic necessity of this particular quote? Gamaliel (talk) 06:25, 14 March 2010 (UTC)
I should add that plenty of fabricated or incorrect quotes by famous figures have made their way into editorials, speeches, etc. That doesn't mean this is one of those cases, of course. Gamaliel (talk) 06:44, 14 March 2010 (UTC)
From what I can find, there are two possible places for the "original" quote. The book above sources it to a NY Post article from June 20, 1990. Another article (an editorial by then president of the Zionist Organization of America, Klein, Morton. "Inciters of anti-Israel violence should be condemned, not rewarded" The Jewish Advocate Nov 4, 1999) cites it to an article in Commentary Magazine in Oct 1990. There is an article in that issue about Mandela, "Mandela in America", but I dont have access to the full article. If somebody who does have access can check if this line is in that piece that may help clear this up. Personally, I think we would find more sources, and higher quality sources, if this were real, and the multiple places being cited as the origin of the quote dont exactly give me greater confidence that this in fact genuine. nableezy - 07:01, 14 March 2010 (UTC)
The encyclopedic importance of the quote is indicated by the incredulity shown by many Wikipedians; it's a surprising thing for Mandela to have said. It is also an early example of a public figure making the apartheid analogy and may be of interest in the Israel and the apartheid analogy article.
But since the consensus seems to be forming that the quote is not reliable I will accept that. Factsontheground (talk) 07:15, 14 March 2010 (UTC)


The points made by Factsontheground are sound, yet the fact that only a couple of references can be found to support such a red-hot statement raises significant doubt. I would expect that if a person of Mandela's stature had unequivocally made that statement that there would be 200 reliable sources verifying and debating the issue, not just 2 or 3. I have not taken the time to work out how it is intended that the text be used in the article, but I raise another point: it is not satisfactory for an editor to pick isolated statements (however well sourced) and use them to make suggestions in any article, particularly a BLP, because that is essentially WP:SYNTH. There must be a ton of reliable material written about Mandela, and if no reliable source has an analysis discussing Mandela's views on the subject in question, it is not valid for us to inject such an inflammatory statement into an article. For example, a person could be in an unusual frame of mind such that given persistent probing, the person might blurt out a statement that they genuinely reject the next day: sure, they made the statement in some possibly provocative circumstance, but do they really believe the words as they came out? Given such a controversial statement and such a prominent person, I do not think a couple of sources reporting the same public statement in 1990 are adequate to introduce a statement as if it is a reasonable summary on the subject's views. Of course if we were writing a blog, considerations such as whether the statement is a fair reflection of the subject's views would not be relevant, but since this is an encyclopedia, they are. Johnuniq (talk) 07:46, 14 March 2010 (UTC)

The quote is reliable, the threshold of inclusion is ridiculously impossible. The counter argument is weak. One good quote doesnt become true just because 2ooo people say it. Many statments get excessive copy b/c they serve a specific political agenda. EVen in SA many things which "hurt" the rainbow get less press. So reasons r many. And why have this imposible standard just because the content is ultimately against Israels interest?--Halqh حَلَقَة הלכהሐላቃህ (talk) 10:01, 14 March 2010 (UTC)
This may be the first time somebody has said I oppose material because it is "against Israels interest". Thanks for that, makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. The reason I have questioned the quote is because from what I have seen there is some confusion as to where it is actually from and no real solid source has this quote. You would expect something like this to get reported in real news stories, not just op-eds, and in the real sources that discuss apartheid and Israel. nableezy - 10:08, 14 March 2010 (UTC)
Not saying U r guilty of that. But think of your key argument premise. "you would expect ..." that condition there r so many other concerns and I am saying generally politics and hush tactics are at work. Mandela has press people that do damage control, he is criticized widely in SA but yet I struggle to find that content on the net. I think if it comes from a solid place it should be accepted, Not only that it seems in line with Mandela, if it was some werid stuff then i understand. Tutu echoed the same thing these ideas are not strange for Mandela.--Halqh حَلَقَة הלכהሐላቃህ (talk) 10:28, 14 March 2010 (UTC)
"comes from a solid place" being the operative phrase there. Ive looked for better sources but have so far been unable to find one. nableezy - 10:55, 14 March 2010 (UTC)

It seems clear to me that we can't include this surprising quotation as a fact because of WP:SYNTH. There are good reasons for this: He may have said something different and have been misunderstood. (Wouldn't be the first time something like this happens.) He may really have said it, but as an introduction to scathing criticism of PLO's methods. (In this case the right wing commentators would have taken it out of context in order to damage him.) He may have said it unplanned, and retracted it the next day. In all these cases other media would very likely not have reported about the matter either way, and even if there was a short notice somewhere explaining the situation, we are unlikely to find it.

What might be possible is mentioning that two opinion pieces attacked him, claiming that he had said that. But it would be important to give this hardly any weight at all, because we are so unsure about the context. And it still seems better to ignore it completely. Incidentally, simply ignoring it because of the uncertainties is probably precisely what most of the biographies did. Hans Adler 10:30, 14 March 2010 (UTC)

This editor disagrees, include it.--Halqh حَلَقَة הלכהሐላቃህ (talk) 10:38, 14 March 2010 (UTC)

Jerusalem Post also has the quotation in an opinion piece by "prominent NY journalist" Sidney Zion (24 June 1990, page 4). Actually I don't know why people find it surprising. Zerotalk 11:53, 14 March 2010 (UTC)

Seems like a very silly argument here. If multiple reliable sources have reported the same quote by the same person, and it is in line with comments he has made in the past (e.g. Mandela has been a vocal critic of the hypocrisy of Israel being allowed to keep its nuclear weapons while S. Africa was forced to abandon its program), then what exactly is the problem here? Tarc (talk) 13:55, 14 March 2010 (UTC)

I'm the editor who originally removed the quote from the article. I did so because I simply do not believe the source. As someone who has long described Israel as an apartheid society, I have frequently expressed my disappointment that Mandela has never made such an unequivocal statement; and I don't see how I could have missed that one if he really had made it twenty years ago. The sources that cite this all appear to be right-wing pro-Israeli polemicists, who are attempting to smear both Mandela and the PLO. Look at the context in the first book cited: "Barring the resurrection of Hitler, it is difficult to think of a figure more likely than Arafat to arouse the loathing of ordinary Jews. If the Jews were a normal, a self-respecting people, Mandela's defiant embrace of this Jew killer would therefore seem to have been an unlikely way to ingratiate himself with them".[4] And so on.
The New York Post archive only goes back to 1998, so I have been unable to confirm the veracity of this quote online. But it is a sensationalist tabloid, and on an issue like this I would be very reluctant to takee its word unsupported by any other source. This is a muckraking attempt to present anti-Zionism as antisemitic, and I'm surprised that some other editors uncritically accept the veracity of this surprising statement. RolandR (talk) 14:15, 14 March 2010 (UTC)

The original sources are opinion pieces (not news articles) so they're not reliable sources for whether Mandela made this specific statement. Ryan Paddy (talk) 22:35, 14 March 2010 (UTC)

So far the earliest possible source of this quote is the October 1990 issue of Commentary Magazine mentioned by Nableezy. This seems plausible given that the 3 opeds (edit 4 with the J Post quote mentioned by Zero0000) seem to all be referring to an earlier source of some kind. I'm not going to push this any further on the page - not just because of the unreliability of the quote's sources, but because on further reflection I have doubts that Mandela (if he did say the quote) was indeed purposefully making the analogy or just being rhetorical. However if anyone has access to that issue of Commentary and could confirm/disconfirm the quote I'd be interested just to get to the bottom of this; the provenance of the quote is quite mysterious. It would also be interesting to see exactly how reliable the original piece containing the quote was - who the author was and was it an opinion or straight news piece itself? Factsontheground (talk) 23:17, 14 March 2010 (UTC)

Actually the October 1990 quote would be the latest, no? The flurry of opeds were from June 1990. Anyway, just for interest sake, yes, the Commentary Magazine does repeat the misquote (see below for Nableezy's find about this).--Slp1 (talk) 13:36, 15 March 2010 (UTC)
What makes me very cautious here is that, although this quote appears to strengthen the argument that use of this analogy is widespread, the only sources that we can find are right-wing, even neo-con, and definitely anti-Palestinian polemicists. If the quote was genuine, I would have expected more use to be made of it by those who agree with it, rather than by those who are using it to attack Mandela and the PLO. RolandR (talk) 00:01, 15 March 2010 (UTC)

There is a similar quote in a Newsday article, Les Payne "PLO, S. Africa Struggles Compared", Mar 1, 1990. The article contains the following:

"If the truth alienates the Jewish community, my position is, it's too bad," Mandela said. "I sincerely believe that there are many similarities between our situation and that of the PLO."
He also said, "We live under a unique form of colonialism in South Africa, as well as in Israel, and a lot flows from that fact."
Asked about Mandela's remark, Arafat said, "We are in the same trench, struggling against the same enemies against apartheid, racism, colonialism and neo-colonialism. Israel and South Africa are cooperating in everything, and {there is}all kinds of cooperation between the two regimes."

(the Arafat quote can be seen in the abstract) Here we have almost the exact same quote as what is claimed Mandela said, "We are in the same trench struggling against the same enemy: the twin Tel Aviv and Pretoria regimes, apartheid, racism, colonialism and neo-colonialism." but it is reported to have been said by Arafat. I dont think we can use a collection of op-eds claiming a living person said something. nableezy - 05:35, 15 March 2010 (UTC)

This is an excellent find that is more credible than the original. It casts sufficient doubt over the situation that the quotation definitely should not be used. Zerotalk 05:46, 15 March 2010 (UTC)
Well that's the last nail in the coffin. Factsontheground (talk) 06:26, 15 March 2010 (UTC)

Well done all. I must say that this is the sort of thing about Wikipedia that inspires me. A bunch of volunteers scattered about the world, armed with common sense, healthy skepticism and research skills, provide better editorial oversight than mainstream sources have. --Slp1 (talk) 13:29, 15 March 2010 (UTC)