Netanyahu talks to Elon Musk in California about anti-Semitism on X

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Netanyahu’s high-profile visit comes at a time when Musk is facing accusations of tolerating anti-Semitism on X.

Published On 18 Sep 2023

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is starting a US trip in California to talk about technology and artificial intelligence with billionaire businessman Elon Musk.

The Israeli leader posted Monday on Musk’s social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, that he plans to talk with the Tesla CEO “about how we can harness the opportunities and mitigate the risks of AI for the good of civilization.”

Netanyahu’s high-profile visit to the San Francisco Bay Area comes at a time when Musk is facing accusations of tolerating anti-Semitic messages on his social media platform, while Netanyahu is confronting political opposition at home and abroad. Protesters gathered early Monday outside the Fremont, California factory where Tesla makes its cars.

The video livestream kicked off shortly before 9:30am with Netanyahu and the Tesla CEO. Netanyahu’s official X account posted that he is holding a “one-on-one conversation” with Musk. The number of viewers hovered around 700-800 people.

The two kicked off with a joke about deepfakes and quickly launched into a discussion of artificial intelligence as both a blessing and a curse for humanity.

Netanyahu said an important question about more advanced AI is: “How do you get the international regime to control this thing?”

He said it starts by getting like-minded states to agree to a code of ethics and code of conduct to foster the benefits and “curb the curses” but said there will still be a need to “police the planet” against rogue actors.

The freestyle conversation, which included jokes from both men, soon turned to free speech and anti-Semitism, with Netanyahu telling Musk he hopes that within the confines of the First Amendment, he can find a way to clamp down on anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred on his social media platform.

“I encourage you and urge you to find the balance. It’s a tough one,” Netanyahu said.

Musk responded that he was “sort of against anything that promotes hate and conflict,” The Washington Post reported. He added that he was “in favour of that which furthers civilization and which ultimately leads us to become a space-faring civilization”, and that “we can’t do that if there’s a lot of infighting and hatred and negativity. So obviously I’m against antisemitism.”

A plane flies a banner protesting against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he visits Tesla's Fremont, Calif., factory Protests against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to overhaul the judicial system have spread overseas, including on his Monday visit to a Tesla factory in California [Noah Berger/AP Photo]

Musk said that with 100 million to 200 million posts on X in a day, “some of those are gonna be bad.” He then reiterated the platform’s policy to not promote or amplify hate speech.

Under Musk, the former Twitter changed its rules so that objectionable posts are not usually removed, but instead their visibility is limited so people have to seek it out if they want to see it. Musk calls this “freedom of speech, not freedom of reach”.

‘Amplified’ hate speech

Musk is facing accusations of tolerating anti-Semitic messages on his social media platform. The Anti-Defamation League, a prominent Jewish civil rights organization, has accused Musk of allowing anti-Semitism and hate speech to spread on X. Its director, Jonathan Greenblatt, said Musk had “amplified” the messages of neo-Nazis and white supremacists who want to ban the league by engaging with them recently on X.

In a September 4 post, Musk claimed that the league was “trying to kill this platform by falsely accusing it and me of being anti-Semitic.” In other posts, he said the league was responsible for a 60 percent drop in revenue at X.

The group met this month with X’s chief executive, Linda Yaccarino. Both Musk and Yaccarino have recently posted messages saying they oppose antisemitism.

Netanyahu’s meeting with Musk comes on the heels of nine months of demonstrations by Israelis against their prime minister’s plan to overhaul the country’s judicial system. Those protests have spread overseas, with groups of Israeli expats staging demonstrations during visits by Netanyahu and other members of his Cabinet.

Netanyahu says the judicial overhaul plan is needed to curb the powers of unelected judges, whom he and his allies say are liberal and overly interventionist. Critics say his plan is a power grab that will destroy the country’s system of checks and balances and push it toward autocratic rule.

Leading figures in Israel’s influential hi-tech community have played a prominent role in the protests. They say weakening the judiciary will hurt the country’s business climate and drive away foreign investment. Israel’s currency, the shekel, has plunged in value this year in a sign of weakening foreign investment.

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