The first leg of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to the United States, where he will address the U.N. General Assembly later this week, brought him to California for a meeting with billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk.
During a 45-minute, live-streamed one-on-one discussion, Netanyahu and Musk discussed artificial intelligence, Iran, antisemitism and judicial reform, among other subjects.
The conversation began cordially, with Musk reminding that he and Netanyahu had met several times in Israel, including having “a lovely breakfast” together. Netanyahu called Musk a modern-day Thomas Edison or Nikola Tesla.
Musk said that artificial intelligence is “potentially the biggest civilization threat,” while Netanyahu discussed AI in biblical terms, noting that the prophet Moses laid out paths for the Israelites that led to blessings or curses.
“The blessings of AI are amazing,” Netanyahu said. However, he noted that artificial intelligence can also be harmful.
Musk discussed activating his Internet satellite system over Iran, after which he received a “sort of upset” letter from the Iranian government that he described as “Charles Dickens-level polite.”
“I was expecting it to say ‘P.S. Death to America and Israel,’” Musk said.
Netanyahu reminded the entrepreneur that Iran sought to assassinate former senior U.S. officials and advised against being “calmed by the Charles Dickens language.”
Netanyahu stressed the importance of curbing antisemitism on platforms like X (former Twitter), which Musk now owns.
“I know your commitment to free speech, and I know you’re opposed to antisemitism. I hope you find within the confines of the First Amendment a way to try and roll it back,” Netanyahu said. “I encourage you to find a balance. It’s a tough one.”
Musk reiterated his opposition to antisemitism as well as “anything that promotes hate and conflict.” He said he is “against attacking any group.”
“Free speech does at times mean someone you don’t like is saying something you don’t like,” Musk added. “If you don’t have that, it’s not free speech.”
Netanyahu responded that he condemns antisemitism on both the far-left and the far-right. He explained that while hateful speech is protected, it’s important to keep such words limited to individual voices and not armies of bots from spreading it.
“This is actually a super-tough problem,” Musk said. He said charging users on X is “the only way I can think of to combat a vast army of bots.”
‘A robust democracy’
The conversation later turned to judicial reform in Israel. “To be frank, we probably got the most amount of negative pushback from people at Tesla about this interview than anything else I’ve ever done,” Musk said.
Netanyahu said it was important for people to know what exactly they’re protesting. “I think most of them don’t know, and there’s a concerted effort to make sure that they don’t know,” he said.
“Israel was, is and always will be a robust democracy,” Netanyahu said. “But it changed its character suddenly and imperceptibly about three decades ago.”
In a sweeping history, dating back to ancient Athens, Netanyahu traced the development of the ideal of powerful philosopher kings to the people ruling. Whereas there is a balance of power among branches of government in the United States, the Israeli judiciary has given itself increasingly more power, he said.
“In Israel, the judiciary has no checks and no balances. It just has power,” he stated. “I’ve been looking for that happy middle.”
He added that he is reaching across the aisle, or if that is impossible, for at least a broad consensus of the public.
After their conversation, Musk and Netanyahu participated in a larger panel on artificial intelligence that was also live-streamed.