Netanyahu to Musk: Israel moving forward with the judicial reform

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Elon Musk discuss antisemitism and artificial intelligence in an X Space conversation.

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen speaking with Tesla CEO Elon Musk, on September 18, 2023. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen speaking with Tesla CEO Elon Musk, on September 18, 2023.
(photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)

SAN JOSE - Controversial billionaire X owner Elon Musk argued that he was not antisemitic and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu portrayed himself as a pro-democracy leader when the two men held a live conversation on Monday.

The two men sat on a small portable stage at Tesla headquarters in San Jose, California, to discuss the dangers and benefits of artificial intelligence.

“Obviously I’m against antisemitism,” said Musk, who is Tesla’s CEO and who has been under fire from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for lax policies on the platform previously known as Twitter, which allow for antisemitic posts.

Musk, however, said that his issue was the protection of free speech, although he did indicate that one way to police the situation would be to start charging a fee to use the platform.

“Free speech does mean at times someone is saying something you don’t like. That doesn’t mean negativity should be pushed on people. Our overarching goal is to maximize unregretted user time. We can’t police [antisemitism] ahead of time. We’re not going to promote hate speech,” Musk said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Tesla CEO Elon Musk. September 18, 2023 (Credit: GPO)

Netanyahu says he's looking for 'happy middle' in judicial reform

The prime minister’s decision to visit Silicon Valley underscores the importance Netanyahu places on Israel’s role in global innovation and his recognition of the revolutionary nature of artificial intelligence.

But the meeting itself is viewed by centrist and left-leaning American Jews as symbolic of Netanyahu’s dismissal of issues top on their agenda, such as antisemitism and his judicial reform program which they fear will transform Israel into a dictatorship.

It’s his first trip to the US since his return to office in December and will include a face-to-face meeting with US President Joe Biden in New York on Wednesday as well as an address to the opening session of the 78th United Nations General Assembly on Friday.

Musk told Netanyahu he had been under criticism for holding a joint public event with the Israeli leader due to his judicial reform plan. Opponents of the plan fear that it would transform Israel into a dictatorship.

Netanyahu said he was strengthening the country’s democracy by putting checks and balances on the Supreme Court, explaining that Israel has the most activist judiciary in the world.

As soon as he returned to Israel, Netanyahu said, he would focus on moving forward with the plan. The best scenario, he said, would be to find a consensus plan with the opposition, but if no such option was available, he indicated that he would turn to the public for a minor correction on how judges are elected.

Netanyahu says deterrence needed to control AI use

The bulk of the exchange, however, focused on the benefits and dangers of artificial intelligence.

Netanyahu warned that as humans, “we maybe have but a few years to adapt to the AI revolution, and I am not sure that we are [making the necessary changes].”

“We stand at a juncture for all humanity where we have to choose between a blessing and a curse,” Netanyahu said as he described the positive benefits of AI. This included, he said, precision medicine, autonomous factories, robots that can act as caregivers, as well as ways of ending food scarcity.

The dangers, however, are also vast, Netanyahu explained, pondering on how democracy could be disrupted and minds could be manipulated. Crime syndicates could abuse the technology as could nations, so there could be AI-driven wars, Netanyahu said.

Machines could control humans instead of the other way around, he continued.

He compared the issue of tackling control of AI with the importance of containing nuclear weapons, explaining that a code of conduct was needed to regulate the AI revolution.

“I look at nuclear weapons. How did we control nuclear weapons? Treaties didn’t do it. Deterrence did” through what was known as MAD, mutually assured destruction,” Netanyahu said.

“If we don’t have a code of conduct between the powers, we’ll have MAC, mutually assured chaos,” he added.

Both in their discussion and later a panel conversation Musk spoke of the importance of regulating AI and of the possibility of programming AI with morality.

Netanyahu, who is weighing the creation of an AI Directorate, invited Musk and other experts he met in Silicon Valley to come to Israel to further discuss the matter.