Hiltzik: Musk goes down the antisemitism road

Sep 6, 2023 | Canyon Crest Guide Newspaper | 0 comments

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Elon Musk has long been known for blaming everyone else but himself for the various fiascos visited upon his companies — meddlesome bureaucrats for COVID-related production slowdowns at Tesla, the Pentagon and conniving rivals for the loss of a government contract by SpaceX, nasty woke advertisers for the decline of X (ex-Twitter).

So what were the chances that he would get around to blaming the Jews? Based on the evidence at hand, 100%.

Over the weekend, Musk launched a ferocious, spittle-flecked attack on the Anti-Defamation League, which describes itself (accurately enough) as “a global leader in combating antisemitism, countering extremism and battling bigotry wherever and whenever it happens.”

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The ADL, because they are so aggressive in their demands to ban social media accounts for even minor infractions, are ironically the biggest generators of anti-Semitism on this platform.

— Elon Musk goes after the Jews on his social media platform X

Musk decided that the ADL is responsible for (in his words) “most of our revenue loss [at X]. Giving them maximum benefit of the doubt, I don’t see any scenario where they’re responsible for less than 10% of the value destruction, so ~$4 billion.”

He asserted that the U.S. advertising revenue at X is “down 60%, primarily due to pressure on advertisers by @ADL (that’s what advertisers tell us), so they almost succeeded in killing X/Twitter!” And he tweeted that he has “no choice but to file a defamation lawsuit against the Anti-Defamation League.”

Not to put a fine point on things, but all this shows Musk to have gone utterly off the rails and over the edge of conspiracy-mongering paranoia. It’s the most extreme outburst of antisemitism by a purportedly mainstream public figure in more than 100 years.

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Musk’s hate-spasm easily outflanks the previous champion of public antisemitism, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who was caught on tape in July arguing that COVID-19 was “targeted to attack Caucasians and Black people” while leaving Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese relatively immune. It’s as if Musk challenged Kennedy’s effort to seize the antisemitism crown by saying, “Oh, yeah? Watch this.”

Musk’s outburst makes the position of Linda Yaccarino, the formerly respected entertainment executive who accepted the job of X’s CEO to restore the platform to the good graces of corporate advertisers, hopelessly untenable. Why she doesn’t resign is a mystery. His words also should prompt the federal government to question his suitability, and that of his company SpaceX, to hold government contracts of any kind.

Musk has bought into the notion — advanced by openly antisemitic X accounts — that the ADL fosters antisemitism by calling it out wherever it appears.

“The ADL, because they are so aggressive in their demands to ban social media accounts for even minor infractions, are ironically the biggest generators of anti-Semitism on this platform,” he tweeted on Sunday. He was responding to a tweet quoting the far-right conspiracy-monger Alex Jones calling the ADL “the most pro-Hitler organization I’ve ever seen.” He further implied that the ADL is “somehow complicit in creating the very thing they complain about!”

Musk implicitly endorsed the hashtag #BantheADL,” advocating banning the organization from X, by replying, “Perhaps we should run a poll on this.” Surely he knows that his right-wing followers would swamp any such poll on the “yes” side.

It’s crystal clear that X’s revenue problem is Elon Musk and his policies. He has welcomed dispensers of antisemitism, racism and other varieties of hate speech back onto the platform, while amplifying misinformation about purported COVID treatments and homophobic slurs retailed by conspiracy movements such as QAnon.

Corporate advertisers in the consumer market don’t need the ADL to tell them that it’s bad for their brands to be associated with a social media platform bristling with neo-Nazis and other denizens of the cultural underworld.

It’s true that the ADL has had its eyes on Musk and X for some time. That’s because the platform’s content moderation policies have fostered a documented surge of hate speech since Musk acquired it last October.

In March, the ADL reported that Twitter had refused to remove tweets or accounts that incited violence against Jews. Two months later, it followed up with a report that Musk’s decision to reinstate 65 Twitter accounts that had previously been banned for hate speech had contributed to the antisemitism surge.

The tweet-and-reply threads of many of these accounts, the ADL found, had become “magnets for vile antisemitic content.” They were rife with such “familiar antisemitic tropes” as “conspiracy theories about George Soros and the Rothschild banking family controlling global politics, finance, and media” and accusations that Jews are aiming to “destroy ‘the West’ by promoting transgender identities and lifestyles and ‘replacing’ white people via immigration (e.g., the Great Replacement).”

Tellingly, beyond stating his determination to “clear our platform’s name on the matter of anti-Semitism,” and declaring, “I’m pro free speech, but against anti-Semitism of any kind,” Musk in his weekend outburst made no effort to address the specific points raised by the ADL — he merely asserted that the organization’s accusations were “unfounded.”

Obviously, that won’t do. According to ADL Chief Executive Jonathan Greenblatt, Yaccarino reached out to him last month, leading to a “frank + productive conversation … about @X, what works and what doesn’t, and where it needs to go to address hate effectively on the platform,” he tweeted.

ADL will “give her and Elon Musk credit if the service gets better … and reserve the right to call them out until it does,” Greenblatt added.

Late Tuesday, however, the ADL issued a further statement.

Citing Musk’s weekend outburst and his cozying up to neo-Nazis, the organization said, “Musk is engaging with and elevating these antisemites at a time when ADL is tracking a surge of bomb threats and swatting attacks of synagogues and Jewish institutions, dramatic levels of antisemitic propaganda being littered throughout Jewish and non-Jewish residential communities, and extremists marching openly through the streets in Nazi gear. All of this is happening in a context of the highest number of antisemitic incidents that ADL has tracked in more than 40 years — and just two weeks away from the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.”

The ADL added, “This behavior is not just alarming nor reckless. It is flat out dangerous and deeply irresponsible. We need responsible leaders to lead, to stop inflaming hatred and to step back from the brink before it’s too late.”

There are few precedents in American history for someone with the public renown of Elon Musk voicing or hosting opinions of such unalloyed virulence. The closest analogue is probably Henry Ford, who in 1920 began publishing screeds in the Dearborn Independent, a local weekly he had acquired, alleging the existence of a vast Jewish conspiracy to achieve world domination.

“Musk is sometimes compared to the innovator Henry Ford,” Josh Marshall observed Tuesday on his website, Talking Points Memo. “The comparison seems increasingly apt, if not in the way many have intended.”

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