Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to travel to San Jose, Calif., to meet face to face with businessman Elon Musk was a highly significant act on multiple levels.
First is the issue of artificial intelligence. As Netanyahu said in his one-on-one live Twitter conversation with Musk and in a later roundtable, AI may well be the most significant development in human history. The ability to train machines to think more accurately and faster than human beings can be a great blessing for humanity. And it can also be our undoing. Shaping the future of AI, maximizing the opportunities it offers and safeguarding the world from its dangers is doubtless the great challenge of our times.
Netanyahu’s aspiration to make Israel the world leader in AI—just as Israel has been the world leader in cyber security—makes learning from Musk’s perspective a matter of great importance and significant urgency. Mobilizing Musk on behalf of Israel’s efforts—and perhaps, cultivating a partnership with him—would be a significant achievement for Netanyahu and Israel.
The second aspect of Netanyahu’s move to deepen his relationship with Musk involves the future of Israeli technology. Israel is a technology development hub whose comparative advantages are closely aligned with many of Musk’s industries. Persuading Musk to deepen his involvement with Israeli technology can insulate Israel’s high-tech sector to a greater degree than it currently enjoys from the vicissitudes of technology booms and busts.
But perhaps the most important potential upside of Netanyahu’s high-profile visit with Musk is that it enables him to undermine the left’s effort to capsize his visit to the United States this week.
In the days before Netanyahu’s Sunday-night flight to San Francisco, the deep-pocketed leftist anarchists who have been running the political war against him and his voters for the past 10 months began revealing the campaign they have prepared for Netanyahu in America.
Last week, they launched their projection ad onto U.N. headquarters in New York City, enjoining the world body to “Protect Israeli Democracy” and warning, “Don’t Believe Crime Minister Netanyahu.” Over Rosh Hashanah, they began projecting an ad on the walls of Alcatraz prison. The ad had Netanyahu wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, clutching the bars of a jail cell. The caption read: “Welcome to Alcatraz Bibi.”
On the face of things, the traction the left’s political war against the government has received makes no sense. Its leaders’ central claim—that they are protecting Israeli democracy—is absurd. Those running the insurrection, the likes of former prime minister Ehud Barak and his cronies, don’t seek to achieve their goals by winning the hearts and minds of voters, which is the democratic way of settling political disputes. Their chosen methods are mass protests, mob riots, violence, intimidation, incitement, highway blockages, vandalism, ostracism, boycott, humiliation and impoverishment.
The self-proclaimed guardians of Israel’s democracy are running a campaign antithetical to democratic governance.
Then there is the Israeli flag. Over the past 10 months, the PR executives running the protests have made clear their intention to destroy every major national institution in Israel. They have already devoured academia. Barak and his fellow former-general buddies are seeking to destabilize, demoralize and tear apart the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli Air Force. Their campaign encouraging fighter pilots, commandos and other top operators to refuse to serve in reserves crosses every red line.
Barak’s billionaire friends have been running a (so far unsuccessful) campaign to destroy Israel’s economy. They have lobbied credit agencies to lower Israel’s credit rating to cause inflation and investor flight and panic. They have called for international investors to divest from Israel. They have called for Israelis to move their money out of the country and emigrate.
Despite all of these unpatriotic actions, the leftist insurrectionists have managed to appropriate the Israeli flag and present themselves as the only legitimate sons and daughters of the State of Israel. The flag, they insist, is theirs alone, just as the country belongs only to them. The majority of Israelis are simply tourists—or interlopers, thieves or parasites.
The secret of the mob’s success is that their partner in all these efforts is the Israeli media. No matter what they do or say, the media has their back. The projection ads at Alcatraz and the United Nations building were presented to the public as bold and pioneering forms of social action. Calls for Netanyahu’s murder are downplayed or ignored. Raw incitement to violence is presented as speaking truth to power. Efforts by Netanyahu and his ministers to fight back against the demonization get them labeled fascists and authoritarians by the media.
Immediately after Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin presented his proposals for minimal limits to be placed on the Supreme Court’s powers in January, the media led the charge that mischaracterized his proposals as a “legal coup” and a “regime change.”
During the first several weeks of the Saturday-night protests, the participants’ flag of choice was that of the PLO. And this makes sense; The bulk of the protesters are Meretz voters. After the pro-PLO, post-Zionist party failed to get elected to the Knesset last November, it moved its operations and voters into the streets. Meretz slogans became the insurrectionists’ slogans.
But just as there weren’t enough Israelis interested in Meretz’s messages to get the party across the vote threshold last November, so the PLO motif was pushing other leftists away. The PR executives masterminding the operation shifted to patriotism and chose the Israeli flag as their official mascot. Within a week, the bottomless piggy bank financing the protests had purchased hundreds of thousands of flags.
The flags have been a great asset. They are not only beautiful banners, but also terrific weapons. Leftists used flags to beat Israeli Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter. They use the flags to beat angry drivers. They use them to bash the windshields of moms stranded in traffic, with their kids in the backseat, because the leftist guardians of democracy decided to block highways just as they were trying to get home.
Incredibly, despite the obvious contradiction between patriotism and an anarchist movement organized around destroying Israel’s national institutions and intimidating the population into submission, thanks to the media, the flag—like the cause of democracy—is the sole property of leftist insurrectionists who reject the voters’ decision from last November.
The media’s near-total mobilization—and, in some cases, leadership—of the left’s anti-government mob action means that Netanyahu needs to find a way to bypass the media.
Enter Elon Musk.
Champion of political freedom
Musk’s acquisition of Twitter (now X) last year catapulted the technology entrepreneur to the top of the information food chain. While Facebook gets more traffic, in many ways X is more influential, because it is the great leveler. Prime ministers and waitresses have the same potential audience. And the waitress can attack a prime minister on X as his equal. If her comments are interesting, she’ll get followers, and at a certain point, may end up with more followers than the prime minister.
With his conservative media empire, Rupert Murdoch can provide an embattled leader with an audience of millions of largely conservative viewers and readers. Musk’s platform can provide an embattled leader with an audience of hundreds of millions worldwide, from all social, cultural and ideological backgrounds. It would not be an exaggeration to argue that Musk may be the single most powerful media owner in history.
Moreover, Musk’s decision to expose Twitter’s previous ownership’s collusion with government censorship programs and his dedication to freedom of speech render him arguably not only the most powerful media figure in history, but possibly the most important champion of political freedom in the 21st century.
Netanyahu accomplished three important things through his online forum with Musk. First, he demonstrated that he is both a thoughtful, liberal, sober-minded and responsible leader, and Israel’s legitimate head of state. By the time Musk asked Netanyahu to explain the protests over judicial reform and why Musk’s employees at Tesla opposed his decision to invite Netanyahu to the company, the question already seemed irrelevant. Netanyahu was so obviously competent and reasonable that the entire protest seemed surreal and small.
The second accomplishment came with Netanyahu’s answer to Musk’s question about judicial reform. Without being interrupted by a partisan reporter, Netanyahu was able to calmly set out his case. He was also able to explain how hard he is working to reach a compromise in the face of massive demonization and personal hardship.
No media interviewer would have afforded him the same opportunity. And no media interviewer would have enabled Netanyahu to reach as large and broad an audience as he reached with Musk. Just an hour after their talk, more than 7 million people had watched it.
Netanyahu’s third accomplishment relates to his relationship with U.S. President Joe Biden. The White House has gone out of its way to support Israel’s leftist insurrectionists. Biden and his advisers have used the anti-government riots and protests as an excuse to refuse to meet with Netanyahu for nearly a year. They briefed Israeli reporters ahead of Netanyahu’s visit that they intended to use Biden’s meeting with Netanyahu as an opportunity to test Netanyahu’s commitment to democracy. In other words, they intend to humiliate Netanyahu and treat him as illegitimate.
Due to Musk’s decision to reveal the U.S. government’s exploitation of Twitter and other social-media giants to censor its opponents on everything from COVID-19 to Hunter Biden’s business dealings with foreign governments, for some, he is viewed as Biden’s greatest foe. In their conversation, Netanyahu quipped that with all his power and influence, Musk is “the unofficial president of the United States.”
By presenting Musk in such a way, Netanyahu used him as a counterweight to the administration. He demonstrated that Biden, while powerful, isn’t all-powerful, and certainly isn’t the only power center in the United States important to U.S. allies, including Israel.
It is hard to know how the events of the week will unfold. But by beginning it with Musk on X, Netanyahu did something no one anticipated. He seized control over the conversation about Israel and his government.