Photo Credit: Courtesy SWC
Rabbi Abraham Cooper

Amidst fiery contention between X/Twitter owner, Elon Musk, and Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt that cumulated in Musk threatening to sue the ADL for defamation, Musk came together with eight Jewish leaders on his platform for a roundtable discussion on September 28. They talked about antisemitism, free speech, Judaism, family, and the Holocaust. To date, the video has received 14.4 million views.

Hillel Fuld, global speaker, tech columnist, startup advisor, was so moved by the event, that he posted on X: “Last night was a truly historic event…. Speakers like Natan Sharansky… President Rivlin, and so many others, took the mic and shared their opinions and requests from [the one who] is perhaps the most influential man on the planet…. The dialogue was so open, so honest, so raw, and so incredibly important. This felt like an event that will have a profound impact on humanity and the ongoing hatred against Israel and the Jewish people.”

Ben Shapiro

Ben Shapiro, Founding Editor-in-Chief and Editor Emeritus of the DailyWire, co-hosted the discussion, along with Rabbi Dr. Ari Lamm, CEO of Bnai Zion, an organization that promotes Israel and Judaism through media and entertainment.

Shapiro opened the conversation by stating that Musk was “at war” with the ADL, which he described as “a group that was once dedicated to fighting antisemitism in nonpartisan fashion. Of late, they’ve become significantly more partisan in their progressive politics, to say the least.” On September 4, Musk tweeted that “the ADL has been trying to kill this platform by falsely accusing it & me of being anti-Semitic,” and that their advertising revenue is down 60 percent “primarily due to pressure on advertisers by ADL.” Musk announced later that day, that in order “To clear our platform’s name on the matter of anti-Semitism, it looks like we have no choice but to file a defamation lawsuit against the Anti-Defamation League … oh the irony!”

Shapiro sided with Musk, and explained that “like a lot of progressive interest groups, the ADL would love more controls on dissemination of speech at X.” He said that censorship is being used not only to stop speech that is violent and despicable, but also to silence “material that doesn’t actually meet with approved narratives…These organizations get what they want on a lot of other platforms like YouTube and Facebook, but they’re not getting it at X, which is one of the reasons why they’re very, very angry.”

Musk says that hate speech views have gone down at least 30 percent since he acquired Twitter. However, according to a report by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) and The Communication Assets Survey and Mapping Tool (CASM), which uses BEAM technology to detect hate speech, the number of antisemitic posts have more than doubled since Musk’s acquisition of Twitter in October 2022. 

Musk stressed how free speech can facilitate an opportunity to change someone’s viewpoints. “If there is someone harboring hate, and that hate is based on sort of incorrect assumptions, or bad knowledge, the best way to combat that hate is to hear it, and then say why it’s not true, as opposed to somebody harboring secret antisemitism or some other form of hatred never actually hearing the counterpoints as to why what they believe is false.”

The theme of Musk feeling a strong bond with Jewish people was prevalent throughout the conversation. He told Shapiro the he attended a Hebrew preschool while growing up in South Africa, and surmised, “I don’t know if I’m sort of genetically Jewish, or what, but maybe somewhere… I’m aspirationally Jewish.” He noted that “Elon” is an Israeli name; “It’s like being called ‘Bob’ in Israel.” Musk’s father took him to Israel when he was 13, where he went to the Western Wall, and he visited Masada twice. “I wouldn’t say my Hava Nagila is the best, it’s a little rusty, but it’s pretty, pretty good,” he commented.

Former President of Israel Reuven Rivlin stated, “I feel at home once I call you Elon, because Elon is a very popular name in Israel.” Later in the conversation, Musk told him, “I think, probably, I have twice as many Jewish friends as non- Jewish friends…I think I am Jewish, basically.” Rivlin said that, throughout his career as a politician, member of government, member, speaker, and President of the Knesset, and President of Israel, he fought for civil liberties, including free speech and civil rights. He said they are having the same issues concerning free speech in Israel.

Musk told Rivlin that he’s been talking with Kanye West about Judeo-Christian values. “One of the principles of Christianity is love thy neighbor like thyself, and basically have empathy for others, and turn the other cheek…do not hold a grudge or seek revenge, an eye for an eye turns the whole world blind, as the saying goes…There is actually great wisdom to forgiveness in order to stop the cycle of retribution.” Musk said he wants to get X to a better place which “optimizes for the good of humanity, collectively,” and wondered, “Can we turn an antisemite into someone who is at least neutral, if not pro [Semite]?”

Rivlin said he believes Musk can be appreciated by the world, and welcomed having more discussions with him and said he hopes to see him in Israel.

Rabbi Lamm suggested that a positive way to fight antisemitism is by talking about great Jewish ideas. He called Musk the “standard bearer of the scientific revolution,” comparing him to Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and William Harvey. He steered the conversation in an existential direction, asking Musk if he thinks faith and Biblical religion is incompatible with technological progress, to which Musk replied, “I think it is good to have a sense of wonder about the universe, about this incredible existence that we have…. We should be trying to understand it more, trying to understand creation, and we should be building beautiful and amazing new products and technologies that make our lives better, and also allow us to explore the universe and see the incredible work of the Creator.”

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder of The World Values Network, a global organization that promotes Jewish values in politics, media, and culture, brought up how he loves that Musk has a large family of 10 children, and how sorry he was to read of the loss of Musk’s first child in his book. Musk responded, “That was sadder than I thought a human could feel.”

They talked about how there are only 14 million Jews, and Musk said he always tells his Jewish friends to have more kids. Rabbi Boteach told Musk that Arab states are moving away from a petro dollar economy because of Tesla, and that he has “a right to kind of take credit for whatever might happen between Israel and Saudi Arabia.”

Israeli politician, human rights activist, author, and Chairman for the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP), Natan Sharansky, was imprisoned in Soviet Russia for nine years as a refusenik. He told Musk, “I was born and lived and fought in the Soviet Union, where it was clear that there is no freedom of speech and only antisemitism, and it goes well together. The Soviet dictatorship will not permit any freedom of speech, it will do everything that there’ll be no Jewish or any other identity. It was clear that antisemitism is needed for the dictator to control its own people, so they need external internal enemy, so Jews are very good at internal and external enemies.”

Sharansky explained that antisemitism on the left is more focused on anti-Zionism and demonizing Israel, while on the right, it’s more classical antisemitism. “It’s very important to fight these both simultaneously,” he stated. Sharansky also chillingly revealed, “Today’s antisemitism on the left reminds me exactly of the Soviet Union’s propaganda against Israel. And it’s something to think about – how this neo-Marxism is coming back to American universities.”

He asked Musk if there is an algorithm that can pick up antisemitic and anti-Zionistic statements, and provide the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Musk said there is a list of terms that are “unequivocally antisemitic” and that those terms cause the algorithm not to promote the posts.

Musk expressed that he is “pro the Israeli state…This notion that Israel should not exist is just obviously absurd, and outrageous, and certainly one of the most antisemitic things that could possibly be said, in my opinion.” Musk and Sharansky expressed their concerns about how schools are teaching children to hate America and to question if Israel has the right to exist.

Constitutional and criminal defense attorney Alan Dershowitz was the dissenting voice of the discussion. He advised Musk, “Don’t listen to the critics, don’t listen to any of the people, even many who are speaking today who want to draw lines; that is self-serving, that serve the Jewish community, that serve Israel.” Dershowitz said he believes “no idea should be censored,” and that Musk should be careful not to have X be perceived as “as a right wing reaction to left wing censorship.”

Rabbi Menachem Margolin

Rabbi Menachem Margolin, Chairman of the European Jewish Association, which combats antisemitism and fosters Jewish life, informed Musk that on January 22, in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, his organization would be taking hundreds of European political leaders, Jewish leaders, and Holocaust survivors to Auschwitz. He invited Musk to come, so that he can feel why Jews are so sensitive about antisemitism. Musk explained that he does feel it, he’s seen pictures of baby shoes and other belongings. Rabbi Margolin insisted, “You going would be a very strong statement…You visiting Auschwitz, with all the attention, could really contribute a lot to Holocaust awareness, and the struggle to combat antisemitism.” Musk replied, “I will seriously consider it…It could be a helpful path as an example to others.” Several minutes later, he decided, “I’ll give it a tentative ‘yes,’ I need to travel to the Giga Berlin factory anyway…consider it a tentative ‘yes.’”

Rabbi Margolin drew attention to the fact that people’s lives are in danger because of hate speech. “Thousands of students report to us the demonization they experience on social networks if they identify themselves as Jewish or supporting Israel,” he explained. “It’s not just on social media, but it’s translating into actual physical harm.”

He asked Musk if he received the letter sent by 180 civil rights organizations around the world, requesting for X to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which explains what antisemitism is. It has been adopted or endorsed by almost 40 countries, including the U.S. Musk apologized for not responding and said he was unaware of the letter, but would be happy to take a look at it. “It may already be what we’re doing,” he speculated.

Rabbi Margolin said to Musk. “I do not think you are an antisemite,” to which Musk replied, “It’s the most absurd thing I could have possibly imagined.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action at the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) and Chair of The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, recalled when Simon Wiesenthal, Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter, spoke at a Midwest university in 1980. A student asked him if the Holocaust could happen again. Rabbi Cooper said, “His answer was, if you have organized hate, a crisis in society, plus technology, anything is possible… had that technology been around in 1492, no Jew would have survived in Spain, no Catholic would have survived in England, and no Protestant would have survived in France.” The technology he was referring to was news reels.

When Twitter was first established, Rabbi Cooper went to the San Francisco headquarters to meet with the founders, who told him they were in favor of free speech and against censorship. It was only the United Congressional hearings, where they learned that ISIS was sending out 200,000 tweets a day, that raised their attention.

Rabbi Cooper offered to have SWC’s technical advisors meet with Musk’s to tweak algorithms and hinder the marketing capabilities of antisemites. Rabbi Cooper stressed, “Words have consequences.” He said he hopes that Musk will consider adapting the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and praised Musk by stating, “I salute you for what you’ve done for the women of Iran, for what you did for the people of Ukraine…that you want to help give voice to the voiceless.”

He added, “We’re not talking to the Wizard of Oz. We’re talking to a fellow citizen who frankly is more powerful than a lot of heads of state.”

At the end of the discussion, Musk noted that Hitler and the Nazis were “extremely censorious… They would have SA brownshirts shouting down anyone who was trying to make an argument for the Jewish people.” He expressed his idealism for the future by stating, “For those who harbor hatred for any group, whether it’s Jewish people or some other group, I think if we can promote understanding, and promote forgiveness, and help them to understand that actually some of the things they believe that are causing them to hate another group are perhaps false, that’s what we should be aiming for.”

The discussion can be heard here:


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