Elon Musk Discusses X’s Handling of Antisemitism in Online Convo with Ben Shapiro, Other Jewish Men

The X owner said that his values “do match that of the Jewish people.”
October 1, 2023
Elon Musk (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Elon Musk discussed how X, formerly known as Twitter, is handling antisemitism and free speech on the platform in a Thursday space on X with Ben Shapiro and other Jewish men that went on for nearly two hours.

Shapiro, who co-hosted the space along with podcaster and Bnai Zion CEO Ari Lamm, began the space by recapping Musk’s feud with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL); Musk has threatened to file a defamation lawsuit against the ADL, as he blamed the Jewish group for X losing advertising revenue. Shapiro said that Musk is “right on the merits here,” arguing that “the legacy media, multinational institutions, left-wing interest groups, they have been converging on Elon’s X as a supposed source of rising hate speech and they’ve been doing so in really opportunistic fashion from pretty much every angle.” “These institutions are generally in favor of more censorship, more restrictions on speech,” Shapiro said, arguing that these institutions aren’t just suppressing “material we all agree is gross or violent or despicable” but also speech that doesn’t comport with their “approved narratives, whether we’re talking about COVID, or transgenderism or foreign policy. These organizations get what they want at a lot of other platforms… but they’re not getting it at X.”

Musk called Shapiro’s analysis of the situation “spot on” and argued that hate speech has “gone down” since he bought the platform, claiming that was the conclusion of third parties who examined the platform.

Musk went onto talk about his background going to Hebrew school as a kid in South Africa, describing himself as being “aspirationally Jewish” and “pro-semitic.” “My name Elon is actually a very sort of Israeli name,” Musk said. “It’s like being called Bob in Israel.” He went on to say that he traveled to Israel at the age of 13, where he visited the Western Wall; Musk also said he has been to the Masada twice. “I don’t know how many people can say that,” Musk said.

Shapiro asked Musk where he draws the line on hate speech on X; Musk replied that “one person’s hate speech is another person’s free speech much of the time.” “The general principle is to operate according to the laws of the country that we are in,” Musk said, arguing that “if there is someone harboring hate … the best way to combat that hate is to cure it and then say why it’s not true.” In Musk’s view, it is better to allow someone to say something that then “gets dunked on” or “corrected.”

He later said that X is dealing with “legal but hateful” speech through the platform’s algorithms, claiming that views of hate speech posts have declined by at least 30% since Musk bought Twitter; Musk attributed the decline to X making “the algorithm better.” Shapiro lauded Musk for making the algorithm “more transparent” and getting rid of many of the bots on X. Shapiro also pointed out that the ADL said in 2016 that he was “the single greatest recipient online of antisemitism in 2016, and I will say that has dropped markedly since 2016, including after [Musk] took over X.”

Many of the other Jewish men who spoke during the session kept asking Musk about where to draw the line. Former Israeli President Reuven Rivlin was one of the men who asked this question, as he pointed out that antisemites have used free speech to spread their hatred. Musk said he was “open to ideas” on how to best handle the matter. “I’m aware of that old sort of trope of like, you know, ‘I have a Jewish friend,’” Musk said. “I don’t have a Jewish friend. I think probably, I have twice as many Jewish friends as non-Jewish friends. That’s why I think in some respect I am Jewish basically.” He then said his Jewish friends use the platform and ask them if they see anything, and they say no.

Musk reiterated his earlier point that it’s better for the antisemites to be publicly exposed to counterpoints as to why their hateful views are wrong; otherwise they would become “hidden antisemites.” As an example, Musk said that he has had conversations with rapper Kanye West about the rapper’s antisemitic remarks and has tried “to get to the bottom of where he is coming from,” though Musk said it was unclear where exactly West was coming from. Musk said he told West that he should act according to his Christian values, and he claims to have made progress with West, “and that’s better than just completely excluding him.” “Can we turn an antisemite into someone who is at least neutral, if not pro?” Musk said.

Harvard Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz similarly asked Musk about his view on the “parameters” of free speech for X and throughout the space repeatedly offered to help Musk on the matter. Musk reiterated that that X’s current approach is that “hateful but legal” speech won’t be censored, but such speech won’t be algorithmically recommended to others on the platform. Dershowitz argued that that approach “can be abused and become a form of censorship”; Musk agreed and said, “Advertisers certainly have a right to say what content they’ll appear next to… but not to dictate what can be said on the platform.”

Toward the end of the space, Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda Rabbi Abraham Cooper recalled how the late Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal was asked in the 1980s if the Holocaust could happen in America. Wiesenthal’s reply was that if there was organized hate, a societal crisis and technology, then “anything can happen.” “What we need to look at together, based on your algorithms, is what tweaks need to take place,” Cooper later told Musk, arguing that there needs to be a way to stop hateful groups from marketing their ideas, fundraising and recruiting on X. “How do we degrade their marketing capabilities?” Cooper asked.

Musk said that Wiesenthal was “a great man”; the X owner pointed out that the Nazis were “extremely censorious,” as they “exercised censorship on anything pro-semitic or anything that would counteract the antisemitic arguments.” Musk then said that he aims to make X become “a force for good” that increases love and “diminishes the amount of hate” in the world, but wants to be sure that “in seeking to promote love and understanding” that X doesn’t “inadvertently” become too censorious and create a backlash that increases hate. But Musk said he wanted to keep the dialogue open regarding how to make the platform better.

Both Cooper and Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chairman and founder of the European Jewish Association, asked Musk about the coalition of more than 180 human rights organizations that sent Musk a letter urging him to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. Musk claimed to have not received the letter but said that he would take a look at it. “I suspect it’s probably sensible, it may already be what we’re doing,” he said.

Margolin urged Musk to visit Auschwitz on Holocaust Remembrance Day in January so that he can understand the Jewish people’s sensitivity to antisemitism and see what antisemitism can lead to. Musk called himself “an avid student of history” and who is “very well aware of the Holocaust” and the Nazi death camps. “This is certainly not new information for me, I don’t need to visit Auschwitz to understand,” Musk said. “I get it.” Margolin replied that the visit “is not to understand but to feel.”

“I do feel it,” Musk said, discussing how he has seen the pictures of baby shoes and that it brings him “profound sadness to see that all these children were killed.”

Margolin argued that Musk visiting Auschwitz would send a “strong statement” and contribute to Holocaust awareness and combating antisemitism. Musk then said he would “seriously consider it,” saying that while he’s “knowledgeable on the subject” it could be helpful as “as an example to others.” Musk later said that his answer on visiting Auschwitz is “a tentative yes.”

The X owner also said that his values “do match that of the Jewish people.” “Knowledge, reading, understanding, debating, these are all Jewish values and I very much agree with those,” Musk said. “The Jewish people are a learned people, not just of one book but of many books, and I greatly admire that as a rather bookish person myself.”

Israel was also discussed during the space. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach mentioned that Israel gets accused of being a Nazi state, which prompted Musk to laugh and say, “Oh my God.” In a conversation with Soviet dissident and former Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, Musk said he is pro-Israel and that and those saying Israel shouldn’t exist are “outrageous” and “absurd,” calling it “one of the most antisemitic things” that someone could say. Musk described the anti-Israel movement as being “very strong on the far-left, including at the top universities of America.” He expressed concern that students at elite United States high schools and colleges “are being taught to hate America” as well as being taught to question “the right of Israel to exist.” “We need to fix our education system because they’re being indoctrinated with this madness,” Musk said.

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.