On March 1, “Elder of Ziyon” – the anonymous author behind www.ElderofZiyon.blogspot.com – posted a map from a McGraw Hill college textbook purporting to show “Palestinian loss of land 1946 to 2000.” Considering that Jews were often called “Palestinians” before 1948, and that Palestinian Arabs – as a “nation” – never owned any territory until Israel carved out autonomous regions for them in 1993, the map was highly misleading.
Elder of Ziyon demanded that McGraw Hill “be held accountable for pushing such propaganda in college classrooms” and called on his readers to e-mail the publisher. Remarkably, within a week, McGraw Hill had removed the book from circulation and promised to destroy all remaining copies.
It is victories like these, and many smaller ones, that motivate Elder of Ziyon – the name is “meant to be ironic,” he says – to continue blogging daily, as he has for over 12 years.
The Jewish Press: Why do you blog under an alias?
Elder of Ziyon: I’m not worried about death threats or anything like that. The main reason is professional. I work in a high-tech industry and it doesn’t help my career potential to use my real name. For any future jobs, people would see my name and think I’m not doing any work – that I blog all day.
No. I blog early in the morning, on the train to work, and often before I go to bed.
There is no shortage of pro-Israel websites and blogs. Why the need for your site?
A lot of the analysis I do, I don’t see anybody else doing. For example, there was a report the other week that 51 percent of Palestinians support a two-state solution. Instead of just reading the news story, though, I took the time to look up the actual questions of the survey and noticed one of the questions they didn’t report on. The question was: Would you support a two-state solution if it meant the conflict was completely over and no more claims could be made?
To that question, the vast majority of Palestinians said “No.” And I was able to relate that to an earlier survey that showed that when Palestinians say they want a two-state solution, they only mean that as a stage to the entire destruction of Israel.
How many readers do you have?
I get about 250,000 readers, or hits, a month. And I have influential readers too. Sometimes, for example, Tablet magazine or Commentary will see my stories and run with them.
Where do you get your news stories?
Many of them come from Arabic sites. Every day I look for certain key words in Arab media that might indicate an interesting story. I don’t know Arabic, but I use Google Translate – which I’ve gotten good at over the years – and I’ll [confirm translations] with experts in Arabic if the story looks very important.
Occasionally I just post material that other people might not have seen. For example, the other night I posted a link to the Israel Air Force website, which had a piece on the 50th anniversary of Operation Yahalom in which the Mossad helped an Iraqi defect to Israel with a Soviet MiG-21 fighter jet [an operation that eventually helped Israel win the Six-Day War]. It was on the IAF site for two weeks, but I didn’t see anybody else cover it.
Many of these stories I find on my own, but others come from fans of the site. When they see something unusual, they’ll send it to me. That’s how I got the story of the [anti-Israel map in the] McGraw Hill textbook. One of my contacts saw it over somebody’s shoulder on the subway and told me about it.
What would you say are some of the highlights of your 12-year blogging career?
One of them came during the 2012 war Operation Pillar of Defense. Two times during that war there were stories of children killed by Israeli rockets and both of those times I was able to prove, with the help of military experts, that it was actually Hamas rockets that killed them. One of the children was actually the kid of a BBC reporter.
Another highlight was revealing that Human Rights Watch researcher Marc Garlasco was actually a connoisseur and collector of Nazi memorabilia. It was a joint effort of several bloggers but I got the original tip. And once we started publicizing the news, Human Rights Watch, in its attempt to defend him, ended up doing what’s called “sock puppetry,” which means they started commenting on all these blogs pretending to be ordinary people even though we saw that the IP address was coming from Human Rights Watch. That of course made the story additionally interesting. In the end, Garlasco had to resign.
Probably the biggest story I broke, though, was about an NGO called MIFTAH founded by Hanan Ashrawi, who’s always on TV blasting Israel as a representative of the PLO. Her organization had articles in Arabic supporting terrorism and claiming that Jews were killing Christian children to use their blood for matzah. This is a well-known Western human rights organization – an NGO – that gets money from major Western governments. So the story became very big, and in the end they had to apologize.
What’s next for you?
I would love to make the stuff I write more permanent. I want to put together more of a reference-type website; there’s a lot of information on my site, but I need to make it easier for people to find things and use it as a resource.
I also started writing a book about the supposed Palestinian right of return. I was doing an analysis – both historic and legal – to see if there’s any merit whatsoever to the claim because I’m very concerned that even if there’s a peace plan one day, people will use this right of return as their next step in delegitimizing Israel. So I want to make sure all the history and legal arguments about it are known ahead of time.
I have lots of ideas and lots of things I’d love to do, but it requires more resources, more funding, and partnership. I’m really hoping to be able to take this to the next level.