Middle East Eye / September 18, 2023
In face-to-face meeting, Musk told Israeli leader he was opposed to hate speech but did not provide plans to combat antisemitism on X.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat down with X owner Elon Musk on Monday for a one-on-one conversation at a Tesla factory in Freemont, California, with Netanyahu telling the world’s richest man he was assured of Musk’s commitment to the fight against antisemitism.
“I also know your opposition to antisemitism, you’ve spoken about it, tweeted about it. And all I can say is, I hope you find within the confines of the First Amendment, the ability to stop not only antisemitism, or roll it back as best you can, but any collective hatred of people that antisemitism represents,” Netanyahu told Musk during the conversation, which was centred around artificial intelligence.
“And I know you’re committed to that. I hope you succeed, and it’s not an easy task, but I encourage you and urge you to find a balance.”
Musk responded, saying that he is “opposed to antisemitism” and any type of speech that promotes hatred and negativity, but did not provide any plans to combat antisemitism on the social media platform.
“Now free speech does at times mean that someone you don’t like is saying something you don’t like. If you don’t have that, then it’s not it’s not free speech,” Musk said.
“That doesn’t mean some sort of negativity has to be pushed upon people, because for the X platform unless it’s interesting, entertaining, engaging, then we will lose users – people will want to not use our system if they find it to be unpleasant.”
The conversation between Musk and Netanyahu comes after the Tesla CEO said he would file a lawsuit against the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), saying that the organization was “falsely accusing it (X) and me of being antisemitic“.
Since Musk has taken over the platform, the ADL has said that the number of antisemitic posts on X has sharply risen. A study in March by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue found that there was a surge of new accounts created after Musk took over, which posted at least some antisemitic content.
Musk also previously sued another organization, the Center for Countering Digital Hate. The CCDH’s research reported that hate and disinformation are “spreading like wildfire” at the Musk-run X.
In June, the anti-hate research group reported that Musk took no action against 99 percent of the 100 Twitter Blue accounts it reviewed that had “tweeted hate”.
The ADL has long been criticized by Palestinian activists and progressive groups, who say that the organization has worked to undermine social justice movements in the US.
However, Marc Lamont Hill, an American political commentator and professor of media studies, said that despite the ADL’s history of attacking Palestinians and Muslims, Musk’s attack on the group is “dangerous, dishonest, and deeply antisemitic”.
“He has turned this platform into an unprofitable, white supremacist cesspool. Instead of taking accountability, he has chosen to not-so-subtly scapegoat Jews, which invites violence from his Nazi base,” Hill said on X.
In the conversation on Monday, Netanyahu also snuck in a tenant of antisemitism outlined in the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s (IHRA) definition of the term, which equates criticism of the state of Israel with antisemitism.
And while many governments around the world have adopted the IHRA definition, several major pro-Israel Jewish groups have denounced the definition and said that codifying it could lead to the suppression of “legitimate free speech”.
Israel judicial reforms
During the conversation with Netanyahu, Musk also asked the Israeli prime minister to lay out the issue of the judicial reforms in Israel, which have caused widespread protests in Israel and also in the United States.
“Speaking of Israel, as you saw some protesters outside. And to be frank, I’ve probably got the most amount of negative pushback from people at Tesla about this interview than anything else I’ve ever done,” Musk said, before asking Netanyahu to explain the judicial overhaul.
Netanyahu’s government has made the judicial overhaul a priority since coming into office earlier this year.
In the summer, his far-right coalition passed legislation revoking the “reasonableness standard” – a tool used by Supreme Court justices to prevent government excesses.
The standard was a legal mechanism put in place to provide a check against unreasonable government decisions and appointments. The “reasonableness standard” was the most effective means of balancing the power of the executive.
“We have the most activist judicial court on the planet,” Netanyahu said. “In Israel, the judiciary, it has no checks and balances. It just has power.”
The prime minister also said he was opposed to a measure that would give a parliamentary majority the power to override the Supreme Court.
“It has to be in a happy middle. I’ve been looking for that happy middle,” he added.