On Wednesday, Elon Musk endorsed a post on his social media platform that accused Jews of pushing “dialectical hatred against whites” and failing to realize that the “hordes of minorities” who were “flooding their country” didn’t actually like them.
“You have said the actual truth,” Musk wrote, replying to the post.
Nearly two hours later, Musk weighed in again on X, formerly known as Twitter, where he railed against the Anti-Defamation League. “The ADL unjustly attacks the majority of the West, despite the majority of the West supporting the Jewish people and Israel,” he said, attacking a group created to combat antisemitism. “This is because they cannot, by their own tenets, criticize the minority groups who are their primary threat.”
There may be no clear definition of antisemitism. But there is nothing complicated about interpreting Musk’s tweets: They are transparently antisemitic messages that play into vile conceptions of Jews as rootless cosmopolitans who undermine white nations by allying with people of color. Musk’s bigotry has the added resonance of coming from a white South African billionaire whose grandfather was an antisemitic conspiracy theorist.
Not surprisingly, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt quickly responded to the posts, writing that at “a time when antisemitism is exploding in America and surging around the world, it is indisputably dangerous to use one’s influence to validate and promote antisemitic theories.” The White House condemned Musk’s “abhorrent promotion of antisemitic and racist hate in the strongest terms, which runs against our core values as Americans.”
Things took a turn on Friday when, in what appeared to be a heavily workshopped message, Musk announced that people who post “from the river to the sea” and use other “euphemisms” that “necessarily imply genocide” of Israeli Jews will be banned from his social media platform. Greenblatt quickly celebrated Musk’s post.
— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) November 17, 2023
Greenblatt’s response highlights how the ADL can prioritize policing criticism of Israel and Zionism over combatting antisemitism: Musk has not apologized for his messages from just a few days ago. Instead, as Israel faces blowback over committing what human rights groups consider to be war crimes in Gaza, he has appeased a prominent critic by censoring a phrase that is often used by those who support Palestinians’ right to self-determination. As Yousef Munayyer has written for Jewish Currents, the idea that “the river to the sea” necessarily contains a genocidal intent rests “not on the historical record, but rather on racism and Islamophobia.” It is a phrase that captures Palestinians’ deep-seated desire to live freely throughout their homeland.
While Musk’s new policy will presumably apply only to those who use the phrase in support of Palestinians, it is worth noting that the official policy of many of the extremists in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is also to establish one nation from the river to the sea. The difference is that they favor a Jewish ethnostate in which Palestinians would only live under apartheid, if at all.
This is not a new idea, either. The original platform of Netanyahu’s Likud party from 1977 states that “between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty.” And decades of Likud governments have consistently followed this policy through the present day by systematically working to prevent a Palestinian state from coming into existence.
If Musk wants to clamp down on hateful speech targeting people living “from the river to the sea,” he might first want to focus on Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has been convicted of supporting a terrorist organization and inciting racism, and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who a former senior Israeli intelligence official has called a “Jewish terrorist.” But that does not appear to be what Musk is interested in doing.
Instead, the self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” is trying to cover up for his own bigotry—just as a recent manifestation of it caused advertisers to flee—by cracking down on pro-Palestinian speech. Greenblatt could have rejected that move as a cynical ploy. Instead, he welcomed it and gave Musk cover.