SAN JOSE — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kicked off a U.S. trip in the Bay Area to talk to billionaire businessman Elon Musk about antisemitism on his social media platform X — while Musk asked him to address his judicial overhaul in Israel. The two also discussed artificial intelligence in a sparsely attended livestream event Monday.
Netanyahu's high-profile visit to the San Francisco Bay Area comes at a time when Musk is facing accusations of tolerating antisemitic messages on his social media platform, while Netanyahu is confronting political opposition at home and abroad. Protesters gathered early Monday outside the Fremont factory where Tesla makes its cars.
The official agenda was to consider artificial intelligence, with Netanyahu and the Tesla CEO mostly in agreement on the need to weigh the technology's benefits against its societal risks. Netanyahu said controlling more-advanced AI must start by getting like-minded states to agree to a code of ethics and conduct to foster the technology and "curb the curses." But he 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 antisemitism, with Netanyahu telling Musk he hopes that within the confines of the First Amendment he can find a way to roll back antisemitism 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 said that with 100 million to 200 million posts on X in a day, "some of those are gonna be bad." He 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 them out if they want to see them. Musk calls this "freedom of speech, not freedom of reach."
Musk is facing accusations of tolerating antisemitic messages on X. The Anti-Defamation League, a prominent Jewish civil-rights organization, has accused Musk of allowing antisemitism and hate speech to spread on the platform. 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 Sept. 4 post, Musk claimed that the league was "trying to kill this platform by falsely accusing it & me of being anti-Semitic." In other posts, he said the league was responsible for a 60% drop in revenue at X. The ADL was among a coalition or groups that urged companies last year to pause their advertising on Twitter after Musk bought the platform. But analysts who track Twitter have argued that Musk's chaotic changes to the platform — including jettisoning its well-known brand name — have led to a decline in interest from advertisers.
The group met this month with X's chief executive, Linda Yaccarino. Both Musk and Yaccarino have recently posted messages saying they oppose antisemitism.
On Sunday, however, Musk posted that George Soros' organization "appears to want nothing less than the destruction of western civilization." Soros, 93, has donated billions of dollars of his personal wealth to liberal and anti-authoritarian causes around the world, making him a favored target among many on the right. The Hungarian-American, who is Jewish, has also been the subject of anti-Semitic attacks and conspiracy theories for decades.
Netanyahu's visit was unusually Musk-centric for a world leader and was scheduled to include a demonstration of self-driving technology. Silicon Valley itineraries for visiting political dignitaries typically also include major tech companies such as Apple, Google or Meta.
From California, Netanyahu heads to New York, where he is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly and meet with President Joe Biden and other world leaders, his office said. They include German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as well as South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.
Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken part in nine months of demonstrations against Netanyahu's plan to overhaul Israel's judicial system. Those protests have spread overseas, with groups of Israeli expatriates staging demonstrations during visits by Netanyahu and other members of his Cabinet.
Some gathered Monday outside the Tesla factory in Fremont for a demonstration organized by UnXeptable, founded by Israeli expats to support democracy in Israel.
Protest organizer Offir Gutelzon said that by visiting the San Francisco Bay Area, Netanyahu is "trying to show business as usual. Back home he's tearing apart the country."
"We have to come and show our support and solidarity for our brothers and sisters in Israel, who are protesting every week for the last seven months," Gutelzon said.
Noting the protests and citing pushback he'd received for hosting the prime minister, Musk on Monday asked Netanyahu to speak about the overhaul.
Netanyahu has said 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 high-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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