Benjamin Netanyahu and Elon Musk meet in California | ET REALITY


Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and Elon Musk, owner of X, the social media platform formerly called Twitter, have faced intense scrutiny and criticism for most of the year.

Netanyahu has been the target of a nine-month wave of mass protests against his deeply controversial effort to reduce the power of Israel’s Supreme Court. Musk has been accused of, among other things, condoning and even encouraging a wave of anti-Semitic abuse against X.

On Monday morning, the two men sought to find respite from those rages, in each other’s company.

Netanyahu, beginning a week-long trip to the United States, took a 15-hour red-eye flight to California, where the men met at a factory for Tesla, Musk’s electric car company, and broadcast an unusual hour-long conversation. live on X. which allowed them to deviate from their respective crises.

The discussion was humorous, although disjointed. At times, the two men expressed mutual admiration, at others they delved into the dangers and opportunities of artificial intelligence.

The conversation also allowed Musk to defend himself against accusations of anti-Semitism and Netanyahu to put a positive spin on his judicial reform, which critics say has undermined Israel’s democracy by reducing government oversight.

“The balance between the three branches of government: that’s what I’m trying to achieve, nothing more,” Netanyahu said. Addressing Mr. Musk, he added: “It’s not easy to be smeared. I know you’ve never seen that, right?”

“Me, slandered?” Musk said, laughing. “Never”.

For Netanyahu, a meeting with the world’s richest man – in part to promote technology investment in Israel – allowed him to dismiss claims that his judicial reform had deterred investors and damaged Israel’s startup ecosystem.

“I have helped reform the Israeli economy from a semi-socialist economy to one of the most vibrant free-market economies,” Netanyahu said.

For Musk, the meeting with the leader of the world’s only Jewish state gave him a chance to deflect a barrage of criticism from American Jews who say he has allowed X to become a vessel for anti-Semitic hatred.

“Obviously I’m against anti-Semitism, I’m against everything,” Musk said. “And I am in favor of that which helps sustain society and leads us to a better future for humanity.”

Still, the Israeli prime minister took the opportunity to press X’s owner on the issue of hate posts.

“I hope that they can find, within the confines of the First Amendment, the ability to not only stop anti-Semitism as best they can, but also any collective hatred towards the people that anti-Semitism represents,” Netanyahu said.

Later, Jonathan Greenblatt, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League, expressed gratitude to Mr. Netanyahu for raising the issue.

“We hope that Mr. Musk will take Prime Minister Netanyahu’s concerns seriously so that X/Twitter can become a safer and more welcome place for everyone,” he said.

Where the men gathered, the subdued audience, made up primarily of senior Israeli officials, was twice reprimanded by Musk for not laughing at his jokes. “We have a kind of dry house here,” he said.

The response from outside the meeting was more critical: Netanyahu was accused of providing political cover for Musk at a time of rising anti-Semitism on his platform.

Anti-Semitic posts on X, then known as Twitter, increased more than 100 percent in the months after Musk’s purchase in October 2022, according to a joint study. investigation by two British groups.

Musk has also raised alarm bells by threatening to sue the Anti-Defamation League, the human rights group that has highlighted the rise of anti-Semitism in X, and by attacking George Soros, a frequent target of anti-Semitic abuse.

Netanyahu’s decision to meet with Musk served “at least to legitimize inaction,” Yizhar Hess, vice president of the World Zionist Organization, a nongovernmental group, said in a statement.

“Choosing to be friends with Elon Musk at a time when anti-Semitism is rife at X not only sends the wrong message to Jews around the world, it puts them at risk,” Hess said.

The meeting was arranged at Musk’s suggestion and after several calls in recent weeks between the two men, according to Netanyahu’s office.

Netanyahu was scheduled to depart Monday night on another overnight flight to New York, where he will meet with President Biden and deliver a speech to the United Nations General Assembly later in the week.

His visit to the United States comes against a backdrop of unrest in Israel over Netanyahu’s effort to weaken the judiciary.

Netanyahu says his goal is to strengthen democracy by giving elected lawmakers greater autonomy over unelected judges. Critics say his plan will not only undermine the rule of law but also make Israel a riskier place to do business.

Israeli economists, senior bankers and business leaders, including tech entrepreneurs who helped make Israel a cyber superpower, have said the reform, which has not yet been fully enacted, will hurt Israel’s economy.

“Save our emerging nation” has been a common slogan in anti-government protests this year.

When Netanyahu arrived in California at dawn on Monday, more than 200 protesters were already lining his convoy route.

“AI?” reads a protester’s sign. “How about some emotional intelligence?”

Another poster read: “Make Bibi an X Prime Minister.”

Netanyahu’s meeting with Musk, critics said, will do little to help Israel’s economy.

“The stock market is going in the wrong direction, investments are not coming,” said Offir Gutelzon, an Israeli tech entrepreneur based in Palo Alto, California, who organized protests this week in the Bay Area. “To get investments like we did, we need the prime minister to stop the judicial coup.”

Since his $44 billion acquisition of X in 2022, Musk has rolled back content moderation rules and fired many employees responsible for enforcing those rules. Instead, he has pushed an anything-goes approach when it comes to the types of speech allowed in X.

Musk has said the company was too restrictive under his previous management, but his stance has scared off major advertisers, who fear linking their brands to controversial posts.

“The ADL has been trying to take down this platform by falsely accusing it and me of being anti-Semitic,” Musk wrote in a mail earlier this month, referring to the Anti-Defamation League.

Some Jewish leaders predicted that little would come of the meeting.

“It is important for all of us, including the prime minister of the state of Israel, to express loudly and clearly to Elon Musk that what is happening on his platform is outrageous and endangers the lives of the Jewish people,” said Rabbi Rick . Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

But he said: “I am skeptical that such a meeting can resolve these problems.”

In Israel, critics also questioned the wisdom of a head of government going out of his way at a busy time to meet with a businessman on his own turf.

Unlike President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who met with Musk on Sunday in New York, Netanyahu took his long flight of just 12 hours on the ground in California.

“It is customary for one person, even Elon Musk, to be the one to travel to Israel,” Edna Halbani, former head of protocol in the prime minister’s office, told an Israeli radio station.

Netanyahu “is the prime minister, after all,” he noted.

Kate Conger contributed reporting from San Francisco, and Gabby Sobelman of Rehovot, Israel.

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