SAN FRANCISCO: Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of Tesla, SpaceX and social platform X, came under fire from all sides this week after endorsing an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory and then — in an ostensible attempt at damage control — terming phrases associated with the Palestinian cause “euphemisms that imply genocide”.
On Wednesday, the world’s richest man sparked outrage by endorsing an antisemitic post on X that falsely claimed that members of the Jewish community were stoking hatred against white people.
The original post was perceived as a reference to a longtime conspiracy theory among White supremacists that Jews have a secret plan to bring in illegal immigrants to weaken white majorities.
Most notoriously, the idea was promoted by the man who carried out a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, killing 11 people.
In attempt to cover for his anti-Semitic opinions, X owner terms pro-Palestine slogans ‘euphemisms for genocide’
This prompted a sharp rebuke from the White House, with spokesman Andrew Bates saying it was “unacceptable” to repeat such a “hideous lie.”
“We condemn this abhorrent promotion of anti-Semitic and racist hate in the strongest terms, which runs against our core values as Americans,” Bates said.
The move also saw many high-profile advertisers, already wary of rising hate speech on Musk’s platform, leave X (formerly Twitter). The European Commission, IBM, Apple, Disney, Comcast, Lionsgate Entertainment, and Paramount Global were among the main companies and organisations who pulled ads from X.
In response, Musk threatened to sue the media watchdog whose report prompted the exodus of advertisers.
Media Matters for America had said earlier this week that it found ads from IBM, Apple and others were placed alongside content promoting Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.
“The split second court opens on Monday, X Corp will be filing a thermonuclear lawsuit against Media Matters and all those who colluded in this fraudulent attack on our company,” Musk wrote in a post on X, without naming any other parties.
Then, on Friday, as controversy over the pro-Nazi posts mounted, Mr Musk announced new steps to combat what he described as “calls for extreme violence” against Israel.
The billionaire took to X once again and, according to Rolling Stone, declared that the terms “decolonisation” and “from the river to the sea” are euphemisms that “necessarily imply genocide”, the use of which on the platform could “result in suspension”.
Both phrases are commonly used by activists calling for a Free Palestine, meaning an end to occupation and freedom of Palestinians between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
However, his new position is consistent with the stance of the Anti-Defamation League, which has found itself as the target of a lot of Musk’s furore in the past. The league, one of the most vocal critics of how X moderates incendiary content, considers the chant to be a coded call for Israel’s destruction, and offered rare praise for Mr Musk after his announcement.
Musk, who has in the past described himself as a “free speech absolutist” and claimed to be running X according to that principle, took the position that the hotly disputed terms are clear hate speech meant to incite “extreme violence.” He followed up that post with a tweet reading, “At risk of stating the obvious, anyone advocating the genocide of any group will be suspended from this platform.”
Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2023