Netanyahu must push Musk to act against antisemitism on X - editorial

We urge the prime minister to use his meeting with Musk to not just address business ventures and encourage investment in Israel, but to demand action against anttisemitism on X.

 (L-R) Benjamin Netanyahu, Elon Musk (photo credit: FLASH90, REUTERS)
(L-R) Benjamin Netanyahu, Elon Musk
(photo credit: FLASH90, REUTERS)

On Monday, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu departs on his most extensive foreign trip since returning to power, heading to the UN General Assembly to meet world leaders in New York, his first stop will be Silicon Valley. Netanyahu is scheduled to meet at the San Francisco headquarters of X, nèe Twitter, with its owner, billionaire businessman Elon Musk.

Musk, a self-described “free speech absolutist” with a cult following since acquiring Twitter last year, has become a beacon of hope among alt- and far-right figures, for reinstating their banned Twitter accounts and engaging them. Over the past couple of months, this radical rhetoric has amplified and crossed the line into real, dangerous antisemitism.

In May, the hashtag #TheJews trended on the platform, just after Musk turned his sights onto Jewish philanthropist George Soros, saying Soros reminds him of Magneto, the Marvel villain, and claiming he “wants to erode the very fabric of civilization.”

The CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, said that Musk’s rhetoric would “embolden extremists who already contrive anti-Jewish conspiracies and have tried to attack Soros and Jewish communities as a result.” The ADL has noted a significant rise in racist and antisemitic hate speech and harassment since Musk’s acquisition of the company.

Musk then turned his fury on the ADL, helping circulate the hashtag #BanTheADL, blaming it for a steep drop in ad revenue by influencing advertisers and stifling free speech, and threatening to sue the organization for defamation.

 ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt (left) and X CEO Elon Musk (right). (credit: GAGE SKIDMORE, GONZALO FUENTES / REUTERS)
ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt (left) and X CEO Elon Musk (right). (credit: GAGE SKIDMORE, GONZALO FUENTES / REUTERS)

So what’s Netanyahu to do?

On September 14, Musk tweeted that the discussion with Netanyahu was “planned several weeks ago and is about AI, not the Defamation League (he dropped the ‘A’).” The two men first met when Musk visited Israel in 2018.

It makes sense, given the prime minister’s focus on Israel’s economy, that his focus would be on AI technologies and potential investments in Israel’s flourishing tech scene.

But as antisemitism surges online, particularly on X, and as many Israelis and many Jews are questioning Netanyahu’s moral leadership, the prime minister has an opportunity to take a moral stand as a representative of world Jewry.

Netanyahu has been a trailblazer in combating antisemitism, and he often speaks out forcefully when it rears its ugly head around the globe. At the same time, his political and diplomatic pragmatism has, at times, seen him align with figures who have engaged in rhetoric regarded as antisemitic.

Consider his close relationship with Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, who shares many of Netanyahu’s values and his affinity for overhauling judicial systems. In recent years, Orban has been accused of antisemitism, including in his campaign against George Soros, using the same trite conspiracy theorist rhetoric and harmful stereotypes as Musk and others.

Netanyahu has remained mostly laissez-faire on these matters, and has gone so far as to hail Orban’s support for Israel and the Jews.

Predictably, news of the Musk-Netanyahu meeting drew criticism from UnXeptable, a movement launched by Israelis living abroad who are disturbed by recent developments in Israel. The group announced it would organize protests in San Jose and San Francisco on Monday.

“It’s deeply unacceptable that Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the world’s only Jewish state, who calls himself the protector of Israel, is flying across America to seek the counsel and support from a notorious enabler of anti-Jewish hate speech,” said Offir Gutelzon, a tech entrepreneur and co-founder of UnXeptable.

The legendary former ADL chief, Abe Foxman, said that Netanyahu’s meeting with Musk “at this point in time is an insult to the majority of the American Jewish community and counterproductive to the fight against antisemitism on social media.”

We urge the prime minister to use his meeting with Musk to not just address business ventures and encourage investment in Israel, but to act as the leader of the Jewish state demanding effective action against antisemitism on social media.

This is especially necessary at a time when Jews feel attacked and detached, horrified by the rampant antisemitism on X and hurt by Musk’s sustained attack on the ADL. It’s time to end all hate speech on social media, including hatred of Jews and Israel.

That should be Netanyahu’s message.