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Netanyahu asks Elon Musk to condemn antisemitism on X; Musk deflects

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday pressed tech billionaire Elon Musk to condemn antisemitism and find a way to combat it on his social media platform X as the pair met at a Tesla factory in Fremont., Calif.

“I hope you can find within the confines of the First Amendment the ability to not only stop antisemitism as best you can, but any collective hatred of the people that antisemitism represents,” Netanyahu urged Musk in the meeting, which was live-streamed on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “I encourage you to find the balance. … It’s a tough one.”

Musk responded with a mild denunciation of antisemitism, while seeking to pivot the conversation to the importance of free speech and his efforts to combat bots on the site.

“I’m sort of against anything that promotes hate and conflict,” Musk said. He added that he was “in favor of that which furthers civilization and which ultimately leads us to become a space-faring civilization,” and that “we can’t do that if there’s a lot of infighting and hatred and negativity. So obviously I’m against antisemitism.”

The meeting came as each leader looks to the other to help fend off criticism. The pair said their meeting was intended to discuss artificial intelligence, but the conversation quickly veered to antisemitism and also touched on Iran as well as protests against Netanyahu’s government in Israel and the United States.

Protesters, who followed Netanyahu’s motorcade from the San Jose airport, surrounded the Tesla factory in the morning and planned to continue protesting in San Francisco’s Union Square.

For Netanyahu, the meeting with one of the world’s leading tech entrepreneurs comes amid criticism that his controversial push to overhaul Israel’s judiciary risks scaring off international investors and the tech community that has given Israel its reputation as a “start-up nation.” In remarks made in Israel before his departure for California, Netanyahu called Musk “the current leader of the most dramatic development in the new age and perhaps in general,” apparently referring to AI, and said he will “work toward encouraging him to invest in Israel in the coming years.”

For Musk, a personal visit from Netanyahu offered a chance to counter allegations of antisemitism after a series of tweets in which he blamed the Anti-Defamation League, a prominent Jewish human rights organization, for trying to destroy X and threatened a lawsuit against the nonprofit. Research has found that antisemitic speech has risen dramatically on the platform since Musk acquired it last fall, and ADL leaders have said Musk’s recent criticism of the organization has further stoked hate online and off.

Early in the meeting, Musk and Netanyahu discussed the threat of an artificial “superintelligence” surpassing that of humans and perhaps taking control of humanity, which both seemed to agree is real and pressing. (The idea that AI will surpass human intelligence in the foreseeable future is controversial among experts, some of whom see it as a distraction from the technology’s present-day risks and limitations.)

Netanyahu then pivoted to antisemitism, which seemed to make Musk uncomfortable. The pair agreed, however, on the importance of limiting the ability of bots to artificially spread hateful messages on the platform. Musk said he believes the best way to do that is to continue pushing X users to sign up for paid subscriptions and to prioritize the posts of those who do.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that the pair were planning to meet in Silicon Valley at the start of Netanyahu’s trip to the United States for the annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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