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Opinion: Elon Musk’s Israel tour was transparently transactional and insulting

Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion on CNN.

Elon Musk is trying to make amends, or at least do damage control, after endorsing an antisemitic post on his platform X, formerly Twitter. Musk, however, isn’t actually adequately apologizing or doing much of anything to address his own repeated vile actions or the bigotry that has overtaken X since he took the helm.

Jill Filipovic - Courtesy of Jill Filipovic
Jill Filipovic - Courtesy of Jill Filipovic

This week, he paid a visit to Israel, a nation in the midst of a bloody war, to prove, as he put it, that “actions speak louder than words.”

Unfortunately for Musk, both his actions and his words are odious.

Musk’s latest problem started when an X user addressed antisemites on the platform, posting, “To the cowards hiding behind the anonymity of the internet and posting ‘Hitler was right’: You got something you want to say? Why dont (sic) you say it to our faces ….”

Another responded: “Okay. Jewish communties (sic) have been pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them. I’m deeply disinterested in giving the tiniest s*** now about western Jewish populations coming to the disturbing realization that those hordes of minorities that support flooding their country don’t exactly like them too much.”

In response, Musk replied, “You have said the actual truth.”

And then he went further, saying that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) “unjustly attacks the majority of the West,“ by calling out antisemitism. Musk claimed: “This is because [the ADL] cannot, by their own tenets, criticize the minority groups who are their primary threat.”

Jewish groups quickly pointed out that the statement Musk endorsed as “the actual truth” is actually a version of a racist conspiracy theory. The idea is that Jews are letting immigrant invaders into the country to strip Whites of their power and destroy White culture.

And it’s not just some bigots bantering on social media. This ugly “Great Replacement” theory has been behind mass shootings that have targeted specific racial or ethnic groups, including at a grocery store in Buffalo that killed 10 Black shoppers and employees.

The backlash to Musk’s comments on X was swift: Advertisers pulled their campaigns from X, and Musk came under international criticism.

And so, off to Israel he went, to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, tour a kibbutz that was attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7 and meet some of the family members of the hostages taken by Hamas that day. Musk and Netanyahu had a live conversation on X, during which Musk, referring to Hamas, said, “Those who are intent on murder must be neutralized. Then the propaganda must stop.”

He added that Gaza must be made “prosperous,” and “If (all) that happens, I think it will be a good future,” noting that he’d “love to help.”

What a joke.

Musk’s Israel tour was transparently transactional and frankly insulting. The antisemitic sentiment Musk endorsed had nothing to do with Israel; “replacement theory” is generally an unsupported allegation that Jews and other immigrants in the US and Europe are destroying Western civilization.

Meeting with a billionaire on a reputation-saving mission should certainly be pretty low on the list of priorities for Israeli leaders, who, at this particular moment, are still negotiating the return of dozens of Israelis are being held hostage by Hamas, and overseeing a devastating war in Gaza that has killed thousands of innocent civilians and displaced countless more. A chat with Musk and a personal tour of Hamas’ devastation seems like it could have waited.

A tour of Israel in the middle of a war doesn’t even come close to solving the root problem of antisemitism — and it shouldn’t absolve Musk of responsibility for his own words and actions.

Under Musk’s leadership, X has turned into a swamp of prejudice and bigotry. Known neo-Nazi and white supremacists have had their accounts reinstated. Members of the Islamic State returned to the platform and some QAnon conspiracy theorists have been allowed to pay for verification badges on the site.

In the months after Musk’s takeover, hate speech on the site surged: Anti-Black racial slurs tripled, and antisemitic posts increased by 61%, according to a report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH). Musk’s response? He sued the CCDH.

“X is a free public service funded largely by advertisers,” X said in a blog post about the lawsuit. “Through the CCDH’s scare campaign and its ongoing pressure on brands to prevent the public’s access to free expression, the CCDH is actively working to prevent public dialogue.”

This month, the progressive watchdog group Media Matters published a report showing that a number of ads were displayed alongside antisemitic and pro-Nazi posts on X. Musk’s response to that report? He sued Media Matters.

Earlier this year, the ADL published a report documenting an increase in antisemitic content on X under Musk’s ownership. Musk threatened to sue them, too, blaming the organization for a huge drop in X’s ad sales.

Musk has compromised his “free speech absolutism,” not to make significant efforts to ban White supremacists and neo-Nazis, but to prevent terms widely adopted by the pro-Palestinian movement, including “decolonization” and “from the river to the sea,” from being used on X.

Many people find these terms deeply offensive when applied to Israel, as they suggest an end to the Jewish state and the likely expulsion of millions of Jews from the region. But it’s pretty rich to ban these words after endorsing antisemitism. And richer still to see a number of opportunists and enablers allow Musk to continue with this farce. Netanyahu is simply the most recent. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt is another: Even though his own organization documented pervasive antisemitism on X and Musk threatened to sue them for exposing it, Greenblatt nevertheless responded to the “decolonization” and “from the river to the sea” ban by applauding Musk for his “leadership in fighting hate.”

Musk has not yet bothered to issue an apology, or take any responsibility whatsoever for his statements or his company’s antisemitism problem. He has, however, found time to post more vile content on X.

This is nothing new. Musk has a long history of making bigoted statements, or supporting the bigoted statements of others. He seems to hold a special ire for George Soros, the Hungarian financier and philanthropist who survived Nazi occupation in the 1940s. Soros has become the subject of a great many far-right and antisemitic conspiracy theories. Musk has compared Soros to a Jewish supervillain, and has said he hates humanity and “wants to erode the very fabric of civilization.”

After “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams went on a racist rant in which he said Black Americans were a “hate group” who people should “get the hell away” from, Musk defended him, tweeting that the “media is racist.” Later, he added that while Adams’s comments “weren’t good,” they did express an “element of truth.”

There’s that word from Musk again: “Truth.” He is proving to us, over and over again, that what he believes to be true is profoundly ugly, bigoted and false. We should listen, and understand that the world’s richest man is saying exactly what he means.

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