Elon Musk, the world’s wealthiest businessperson, faced a new campaign against him when he liked an antisemitic post on his platform, X (Twitter). Media Matters, an organization that published a report on the prevalence of antisemitic content on the platform, triggered major American companies advertising on X to withdraw their ads. Musk, experiencing significant commercial losses, attempted to demonstrate his non-antisemitic stance by visiting Israel. However, associating this with proving one’s non-antisemitic stance is problematic, considering the history of antisemitism predates Israel’s history, and leaders like Prime Minister Netanyahu have a long history of trying to equate criticism of Israel’s policies with antisemitism.
Musk, with a high ability to influence or at least generate discussions in the American public, had been involved in controversies surrounding freedom of expression and the press, especially after acquiring Twitter. Despite facing criticism for various technical and policy changes on the platform, Musk’s success in companies like Tesla and SpaceX led some to believe he could replicate it somehow. However, reports suggesting regret over acquiring Twitter and Musk’s difficulty in ensuring absolute freedom of expression indicated the challenges he faced.
While X remained an indispensable platform, its struggle to generate interactions as it used to suggested an inability to prevent the decline in advertising revenue. Criticisms of X being more easily used by white supremacists and racist groups were prevalent before October 7. After that date, these criticisms intensified, with allegations that Musk’s platform failed to prevent antisemitic propaganda. X, being the most effective private company in influencing public debates, faced pressure on Musk to somehow prevent this kind of propaganda. Musk not only failed in this regard but also intensified the situation by liking an antisemitic post, leading many major American companies to stop advertising on the platform.
Musk, by attracting accusations of antisemitism, exacerbated the difficulties he had been facing in making X profitable. To alleviate pressure from the American public, Musk announced that he would donate ad revenues from interactions related to Gaza on X to hospitals in Israel and the Red Cross in Gaza, suggesting that his concern was not purely financial. However, such steps were unlikely to be sufficient to bring advertisers back to the platform. In recent weeks, pro-Israel groups in the U.S. initiated a campaign of sensitivity against antisemitism to divert attention from Israel’s actions in Gaza. In an environment where many companies were already under pressure, the risk of receiving an antisemitic label seemed to be the main factor behind Musk’s decision to visit Israel.
Earlier, Musk had announced providing internet access to Gaza via Starlink. Still, during the trip, he accepted that this would be subject to approval from the Israeli Ministry of Communication, taking a step back. After meetings with Israeli President Herzog and Prime Minister Netanyahu, Musk echoed Israeli views by stating, referring to Hamas, “there is nothing to do but kill those who kill innocent civilians.” Musk’s previous statements expressing sympathy for Palestinians notwithstanding, interpreting these comments as a simple effort to please Israel would be challenging. Musk seems to believe that being the world’s most successful businessperson qualifies him to speak on topics he is not an expert in.
It’s essential to note a significant disconnect between American political and economic elites and the general public regarding the events after October 7. While the majority of political elites leaned toward classic support for Israel, many young people and minority groups sided with Palestine. Actions like universities banning Palestinian student groups, some employers firing people who attended pro-Palestinian demonstrations, and the use of anti-Semitism campaigns as a pressure tool against criticizing Israel within the Democratic Party showcased this division. Musk’s attempt to shake off the antisemitism label with a trip to Israel shows his failure to grasp the elite-public disconnect over Palestine in American politics.