History's chilling echoes
And fraught with the chilling echoes of history.
As you may have heard by now, Elon Musk, the world’s wealthiest person, amplified toxic tropes of antisemitism on X, formerly known as Twitter, the social media platform he purchased and eagerly degraded as a public square of responsible discourse.
“You have said the actual truth,” was Musk’s response to a post that trafficked in the vile conspiracy theory that a cabal of American Jews has encouraged “hordes of minorities” to “flood” the United States as a means of displacing the white race.
On the contrary, Mr. Musk. The “actual truth” is that this is hate speech. And lies. And it reveals you, once more, to be someone who should have no control over what the world sees and hears. Tragically, you do, because of your immense wealth and the power it brings.
The dispiriting reality is that Musk may be, as others have noted, “too big to fail.” His car company, Tesla, has led an electrification revolution, which is essential to our ability to contend with the climate crisis. His SpaceX is entwined with the American space program. His satellites provide the internet to places like Ukraine. In venture after venture, his business interests are enmeshed with aspirational notions of the future.
The hagiography that Musk often receives as a visionary makes his antisemitic statements all the more dangerous. What message does it send that someone heralded as leading the world in exciting new directions is intent on bringing along the blood-soaked baggage of the past?
As we are currently being reminded, antisemitism has a long history, but it is certainly not relegated to times gone by. As could be expected, the fighting in the Middle East has sparked a surge in attacks on Jews around the globe. We have even reached a point where people online were sharing the antisemitic rantings of Osama bin Laden.
It is important to reiterate that criticism of Israel is not inherently antisemitic. Indeed, anyone who has traveled to Israel can tell you there is plenty of dissent within the country about its politics and policies. But there are also cases in which the rhetoric used to attack the Jewish state crosses the line into attacks on the Jewish people. And then there are instances, as with Musk’s comment, when Israel isn’t mentioned at all. And it’s all about the Jews.
Certainly there are other forms of racial, ethnic, and religious bias — Islamophobia among them — that need addressing, in our own country and elsewhere. But today, at this historical moment, Musk’s antisemitism demands special attention.
It is essential that Musk’s statements in particular — and any acts of violence connected to them — be not only condemned but repudiated by everyone, regardless of religion, and including atheists and agnostics, as well. It is especially incumbent on those who are not Jewish to use the power of their position and privilege to denounce antisemitism without hesitation or equivocation.
Antisemitism is one of the great scourges of world history. It has been used time and again as a justification for mass death. It has long been a tool for those who build their power on division and seek scapegoats for their own failures. It can lurk under the surface for years only to explode at the slightest excuse.
That all of this is coming as the former president and current leader of the Republican Party is promising a horrific and fascistic approach to governance if he is reelected only adds to our peril. We know from history where the combination of wealth, power, and antisemitism often lead.
None of what Musk has done should be normalized or taken as inevitable. Already there is pushback. IBM and the European Union announced they are pausing advertising on X. Apple has, as well. This can and should become a groundswell. Many individuals have already fled the platform; maybe more will now follow.
Perhaps there is no level of opprobrium that can shame Musk to change his ways. That may be true, but he should know that these kinds of statements will deprive him of acceptance in the global corridors of power, whether in media, politics, economics, or technology. It is also vital that the rest of the world sees people and companies with power pushing back with full force. Normalization or even apathy would be disastrous.
Antisemitism is a menace that demands uncompromising vigilance — now and along the treacherous road ahead.