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In chat with prominent Jews, Musk burnishes philo-semitic credentials

Abraham Foxman, director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League, called the event a “sad day for the Jewish community.”

The entrepreneur Elon Musk at the annual VIVA Technology conference on June 16, 2023. Credit: Frederic Legrand-COMEO/Shutterstock.
The entrepreneur Elon Musk at the annual VIVA Technology conference on June 16, 2023. Credit: Frederic Legrand-COMEO/Shutterstock.

During a live online discussion that ran for about 90 minutes, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk repeatedly claimed that he is a friend of the Jews, despite attacks, including from some Jewish organizations, that he gives antisemitism the run of the place on his social-network platform X (formerly Twitter).

“My entire life story is pro-semitic,” Musk said. He added that he attended a Jewish kindergarten in South Africa and visited Israel at 13 with his father. “I don’t know if I’m genetically Jewish,” he said. “I’m aspirationally Jewish. Let’s put it that way.”

Conservative political commentator and columnist Ben Shapiro and Ari Lamm—an Orthodox rabbi, scholar and podcaster who is a grandson of late former Yeshiva University president Norman Lamm—co-hosted the discussion with Musk.

The event was Musk’s idea, Shapiro said at the beginning. “One of the things that nobody can deny about Elon is that he’s willing to speak publicly on pretty much everything,” Shapiro said. “Tonight is no exception.”

Asked how X will respond to governmental backdoor pressure to censor, Musk said the social network’s policy is to resist such efforts to the extent that the law allows.

Among other speakers were former Israeli President Reuven Rivlin; Michal Cotler-Wunsh, Israel’s new special envoy for combating antisemitism; Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of global social action at the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chairman and founder of the European Jewish Association; and author and activist Rabbi Shmuely Boteach.

Lamm, who is co-founder of SoulShop and CEO of the Bnai Zion Foundation, had harsh words for the Anti-Defamation League, which has criticized Musk and sought to dissuade those who advertise on the platform.

“We are the stewards of quite literally the most influential tradition of wisdom in the history of humanity,” Lamm said, calling the Torah the foundation of Western civilization. 

American Jewish conservative political commentator and columnist Ben Shapiro at the International Conservatism event in Tel Aviv on July 20, 2022. Source: Nadav Cohen Yonatan, GoLive.

He charged that Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the ADL, “doesn’t even pretend to play in the field of great Jewish ideas and texts.” Instead, American Jews should look to leading Orthodox rabbis like Hershel Schachter of Yeshiva University and Osher Weiss in Israel as representative of their values.

“I feel at home when I call you Elon because Elon is a very popular name here in Israel,” Rivlin told Musk, calling in from Israel.

The former Israeli president asked where he thought the line should be between antisemitism and protecting free speech. Musk said he was open to ideas and his Jewish friends haven’t found the platform to be antisemitic.

“Probably, I have twice as many Jewish friends as non-Jewish friends,” the entrepreneur said. He added that sometimes sunlight is the best disinfectant for hatred, including antisemitism. Otherwise, people like Ye (Kanye West) can keep such sentiment hidden, he said.

Natan Sharansky. Source: YouTube Screenshot.

‘Absurd and outrageous’

Israeli statesman, activist and well-known refusenik Natan Sharansky spoke about experiencing a lack of free speech and extensive antisemitism in the former Soviet Union. He said he is shocked by how much antisemitism there is in the free world—manifesting as anti-Zionism on the far left and demonization of Jews as a people on the far right.

“This notion that Israel should not exist is absurd and outrageous,” Musk said.

Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s director emeritus, called it a “sad day for the Jewish community” when Jewish leaders were meeting with Musk. 

Foxman charged that Musk enabled “an explosion of antisemitism on X” under the banner of free speech, threatened the ADL with a lawsuit for “challenging his enabling antisemitism” and now has split the Jewish community.

Attorney Alan Dershowitz, who also spoke during the event, praised Musk for conducting an experiment “to see if we can survive in the marketplace of ideas without censorship.”

“No idea should be censored,” said the professor emeritus at Harvard Law School. “My suggestion to you is don’t listen to critics.”

He warned Musk not to let the platform drift too far to the right. “X has to be perfectly symmetrical,” Dershowitz said. “Don’t destroy it by being perceived as a right-wing reaction to left-wing excesses.”

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