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Elon Musk’s embrace of Israel fix antisemitism on X

Facing an exodus of advertisers over concerns of antisemitism on his social media site X, billionaire Elon Musk has gone to great lengths to align himself with Israel — 7,000 miles, in fact.

That’s the approximate distance Musk traveled Monday to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and tour a kibbutz ravaged in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack. He also reportedly agreed that SpaceX, his space exploration company, would not provide Starlink satellite internet service to Gaza without the Israeli government’s approval.

It was the latest salvo in a campaign by Musk to counter allegations of rampant antisemitism on his platform — including his own amplification of antisemitic tropes — by positioning himself as a staunch supporter of the Jewish state. But the moves drew mixed reactions from Jewish organizations, and so far there are few indications that they’re winning back advertisers.

If anything, “he’s digging himself deeper and deeper into the ground,” said Ruben Schreurs, chief strategy officer at the marketing consultancy Ebiquity.

Just over a year after Musk acquired Twitter, pledging to make it a haven for free speech and subsequently laying off much of its workforce, its advertising business is on the ropes. Reports of spiking hate speech on the platform; Musk’s decision to prioritize the posts of paying subscribers over those of journalists and media outlets; and his own trollish, sometimes incendiary posts have sparked advertiser boycotts, while other brands and influential users backed away. Those include The Washington Post, which said Tuesday that it had paused advertising on X.

This month, a report by the left-leaning media watchdog Media Matters found pro-Nazi tweets running next to major brands’ ads on X. That came on the heels of Musk personally endorsing a tweet that echoed a baseless antisemitic accusation popular with white nationalists.

Antisemitism was rising online. Then Elon Musk’s X supercharged it.

The result was a backlash in which some of X’s largest remaining advertisers, including IBM, Apple and Disney, announced that they would pause their spending on the site. Musk responded by suing Media Matters, alleging defamation — and by dramatically ramping up his public support of Israel.

On Nov. 17, as the list of companies pulling their ads grew, Musk tweeted that certain phrases associated with calls for Palestinian liberation from Israel, including “decolonization” and “from the river to the sea,” necessarily imply “genocide” and that anyone using them on X would be suspended. It was a sharp departure from his usual rhetoric about the importance of tolerating objectionable speech.

At least one prominent Jewish leader appeared mollified. Jonathan Greenblatt, president of the Anti-Defamation League, which had sparred with Musk in the past, called the crackdown “important and welcome” and praised Musk’s “leadership in fighting hate.”

Next, Musk turned to a now-familiar ally in Netanyahu. Twice before, Musk has spoken with Netanyahu at the height of controversies over his dalliances with antisemitism — once in June after tweets about the Jewish financier George Soros, and again in September amid Musk’s feud with the ADL. The pair had broadcast their September conversation using X’s live audio feature, called Spaces, and they did the same this week in Israel.

The alliance appears to have paid off for Netanyahu already, as Musk agreed in “principle” to give the Israeli government control over the use of Starlink internet service in Gaza. While the service could be critical to Palestinian aid efforts crippled by widespread communication blackouts, Israeli leaders fear that it would be used by Hamas militants.

But Musk’s hopes that people would get the message that he’s not an antisemite after all — “Actions speak louder than words,” he tweeted — remained largely unfulfilled.

“We are glad Elon Musk went to Israel, and we encourage every leader to visit to try and grasp the horrific pain inflicted by Hamas against the Jewish state and, in turn, against the Jewish people,” Ted Deutch, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, said in an emailed statement to The Post. “And yet, as recently as last week, we were outraged by Musk’s amplification of antisemitic content on X. His experience in Israel should cause him to remove antisemitic content on X rather than promote it. We’ll see.”

Elad Nehorai, a left-leaning commentator who has helped to organize a campaign by rabbis and other Jewish leaders to call out antisemitism on X, saw Musk’s meetings with Netanyahu as a “symbiotic relationship, where they both benefit from each other.” Musk gets “a shield against antisemitism accusations,” while Netanyahu gets the support of the world’s richest man, and one of its most powerful, thanks to his ownership of Starlink.

But Nehorai said Musk’s support of Israel shouldn’t absolve him of responsibility for failing to moderate antisemitism on X, or for Musk’s own antisemitic tweets. “This has been a classic move by Republicans and the right for a long time: The moment they get accused of antisemitism, they state their support of Israel,” he said.

Nehorai added that some antisemites and white nationalists see support of a Jewish state as consistent with their own interest in marginalizing Jews and other minorities domestically. The tweet that Musk agreed with this month was making the case that “western Jewish populations” are to blame for supporting “hordes of minorities” who are “flooding their country” and promoting “hatred against whites.”

It’s too soon to say for sure whether Musk’s Israel visit will help his cause with advertisers, said Schreurs of Ebiquity, which he said consults with more than 70 of the 100 largest advertising spenders globally. If his goal was to put to rest their concerns about spending on X, Schreurs added, it could have the opposite effect.

“What brands at all costs try to avoid in general is overly politicized content,” he said. “What he’s doing now with this abundant show of reverence to Netanyahu and support for his regime is actually further politicizing the platform.”

Among the major global brands that Ebiquity works with, Schreurs said he’s not aware of a single one that’s still advertising on X.

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