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Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu to meet Elon Musk amid antisemitism storm

file photo: elon musk in paris
FILE PHOTO: Twitter, X Corp., and Tesla CEO Elon Musk

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will fly to California on Monday to meet Elon Musk, the tech entrepreneur accused by civil rights groups of amplifying anti-Jewish hatred on his X social media platform, formerly known as Twitter.

An official in Netanyahu’s office on Thursday confirmed the meeting. Musk said on X that their talks would focus on artificial intelligence technology and not the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), with whom Musk is feuding over antisemitism on X.

The prime minister’s office said Netanyahu, a champion of Israel’s high tech sector, would meet Musk and others on developing artificial intelligence.

The Washington Post, which broke the news of the Musk-Netanyahu meeting, cited five people familiar with the situation as saying the meeting was the latest step in a campaign by Musk’s Jewish friends and allies to stave off the mounting criticism surrounding the increase in antisemitic speech on X.

Netanyahu is also due to meet President Joe Biden in New York next week, according to a U.S. official.

Netanyahu’s office said the two leaders will meet during the prime minister’s trip to the UN General Assembly, where the pair are both due to speak, but did not specify the exact location of the meeting.

Biden has expressed concern about a judicial overhaul undertaken by Netanyahu and his right-wing government as well as Israel’s expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Hate speech on X has increased dramatically since Musk bought the site last year and loosened safeguards around content moderation. Last week, Musk said U.S. ad revenue had declined by 60%.

Civil rights groups, including the Center for Countering Digital Hate and the ADL, have issued findings that the volume of hate speech on X has grown dramatically under the stewardship of Musk, who is also CEO of electric carmaker Tesla TSLA.O.

On Thursday, an ADL spokesperson issued a statement saying: “Nothing about this meeting is particularly surprising given that Israel’s technology sector is one of the most innovative and dynamic in the world. However, Israel and Jews are frequently targets of hateful anti-Zionist, and antisemitic invectives on Twitter/X and we hope they will have a productive meeting and talk about ways to combat antisemitism and anti-Zionist hate speech on the platform.”

News of the meeting drew criticism from UnXeptable, a movement launched by Israeli citizens disturbed by their home country’s rightward turn. The group announced it would organize protests in San Jose and San Francisco on Monday.

“It’s deeply unacceptable that Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the world’s only Jewish state, who calls himself the protector of Israel, is flying across America to seek the counsel and support from a notorious enabler of anti-Jewish hate speech,” Offir Gutelzon, a tech entrepreneur and co-founder of UnXeptable, said.

In December, the ADL noted both an increase in antisemitic content on the platform and a decrease in the moderation of antisemitic posts since Musk took over. The Center for Countering Digital Hate said the daily use of a racial slur against Black people under Musk was triple the 2022 average and slurs against gay men and trans persons were up 58% and 62%, respectively.

Without providing evidence, Musk has blamed critics for the slump in ad revenue. He has pointed the finger specifically at pressure from the ADL, which he has started to pejoratively refer to as the “Defamation League,” including in his statement on X on Thursday.

Earlier this month, Musk joined a conversation on X with a hashtag #BantheADL, embraced by white nationalists and antisemites, and asked followers whether he should poll the platform about it. He engaged in exchanges with users who expressed antisemitic viewpoints during the discussion.

X’s new content moderation policy has made it challenging to convince brands that the social media platform was safe for ads, the company’s former head of brand safety and ad quality AJ Brown told Reuters in an interview this month.

Foreign investment in Israeli tech startups has plunged in the last year, partly due to a global slowdown and exacerbated by investor fears that the push to trim the Supreme Court’s powers would remove a key check and balance. With foreign flows down sharply, the shekel ILS= has weakened by nearly 9% versus the dollar this year.

Netanyahu is due to meet other world leaders at the U.N., including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

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