March 5, 2024

Last week a self-described Jewish conservative named Charles Weber took to X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, to address the “cowards hiding behind the anonymity of the internet and posting ‘Hitler was right.’” Weber dared those trolls to “say it to our faces.” One X user took him up on it.

“Okay,” the user replied. Jewish communities “have been pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them.” Echoing the great replacement conspiracy theory, which holds that Jews are scheming to undermine white political power by importing Black and brown immigrants, he accused Jews of flooding America with “hordes of minorities.” Therefore, he said, he was “deeply disinterested” in Jewish panic about mounting antisemitism.

Then Elon Musk, the owner of X and one of the richest men in the world, chimed in, responding: “You have said the actual truth.”

Musk’s words caused a firestorm and led to a major advertising exodus from X, but they shouldn’t have been that surprising, because he has been flirting with antisemitism for a while now. He’s compared the liberal Jewish billionaire George Soros to the X-Men supervillain Magneto — a Jew who grew to hate humanity during the Holocaust — and later accused Soros’s organization of seeking “nothing less than the destruction of western civilization.” Musk has tweeted an alt-right Pepe the Frog meme and welcomed the rapper Kanye West back to Twitter after West, who now goes by Ye, threatened to go “death con 3 on Jewish people.” For the last few months, he has been on a crusade against the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights organization that he blamed for a 60 percent decline in Twitter’s ad revenue. Last week, an investigation by the progressive watchdog group Media Matters for America found that X was placing ads for major corporations next to white nationalist and neo-Nazi content. (On Monday, X filed a lawsuit against Media Matters, accusing it of manipulating the platform’s algorithm “to force a situation in which a brand ad post appeared adjacent to fringe content.”) So I wasn’t shocked by Musk’s words. I was astonished, however, by how easily, in the days following his antisemitic outburst, Musk was able to win praise from a few Jewish leaders simply by promising to censor common pro-Palestinian language. The sordid episode was a reminder of the moral rot that comes from conflating the state of Israel with the Jewish people, a rot we see on both sides of the ferocious fight over Israel’s future.

Since Oct. 7, Jews the world over have been confronted by vicious antisemitism unleashed by hatred of Israel. I’ve long argued that anti-Zionism and antisemitism aren’t the same thing; the leftists who want to see a binational state in Israel and Palestine with equal rights for all may be naïve, but they are not genocidal. However, the explosion of anti-Jewish rhetoric and violence occasioned by the war in Gaza — the stabbing of a Jewish woman in France, the shootings of Jewish day schools in Montreal, the killing of a Jewish protester near Los Angeles — has forced me to reckon with how often anti-Zionism and antisemitism are intertwined. Abhorrence of the Jewish state slips easily into abhorrence of Jews.

On the right, though, there’s a mirror image of this slippage, with some defenders of the Jewish state willing to make excuses for antisemites so long as they champion Israel. The apocalyptic Christian Zionist pastor John Hagee, for example, has said that Adolf Hitler was sent by God to drive the Jews to Israel, “the only home God ever intended for the Jews to have,” and claimed that the Antichrist would be “partially Jewish, as was Adolf Hitler, as was Karl Marx.” (He later apologized for his insensitivity even as he said, “I cannot deny the tenets of my faith.”) Despite his inflammatory words about Jews, Hagee was invited to speak at the March for Israel in Washington last week. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has regularly embraced nationalist leaders who deploy antisemitic tropes, Donald Trump chief among them.

Musk appears to have learned the lesson that ardent Zionism can function as an alibi for antisemitism. As advertisers fled X last week, he suddenly announced that he was going to ban the pro-Palestinian slogan “From the river to the sea,” as well as “decolonization,” a buzzword on the anti-Zionist left. The move made a mockery of the ostensible free speech absolutism that was Musk’s excuse for allowing so much antisemitism on X in the first place. It did nothing to curb overt white nationalists on the site, many of whom had celebrated Musk’s “actual truth” post. But it was enough to earn him plaudits from some Jewish and Israeli spokespeople. “This is an important and welcome move by @elonmusk,” tweeted the ADL president, Jonathan Greenblatt. “I appreciate this leadership in fighting hate.” (An ADL spokesman told me that Greenblatt’s praise was “narrowly focused on a specific policy decision” and that the group hasn’t rescinded its other criticisms of Musk.) Amichai Chikli, Israel’s minister for diaspora affairs, thanked Musk for “standing on the right side of history.”

X’s erratic owner was able to win this approval without even apologizing for boosting the very antisemitic conspiracy theory behind the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. It’s hard to figure out who is behaving more cynically, Musk or the Jewish leaders who are koshering him.

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