Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli on Thursday defended Elon Musk after the Twitter chief and tech billionaire attacked Jewish megadonor George Soros, drawing fire from the Foreign Ministry and the Anti-Defamation League.
Musk said on Twitter on Monday that Soros “hates humanity” and compared the philanthropist to a comic book villain. The Foreign Ministry, the ADL and other Jewish organizations said the comments stoked antisemitism, although Foreign Minister Eli Cohen later disavowed his office’s statement.
Chikli joined the fray on Thursday by coming to Musk’s defense, saying, “As Israel’s minister who’s entrusted on combating anti-Semitism, I would like to clarify that the Israeli government and the vast majority of Israeli citizens see Elon Musk as an amazing entrepreneur and a role model.”
“Criticism of Soros – who finances the most hostile organizations to the Jewish people and the state of Israel is anything but anti-Semitism, quite the opposite!” Chikli wrote on Twitter.
Soros is a billionaire and Holocaust survivor who supports progressive causes and is a common target of antisemitic conspiracy theories.
Chikli is a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party.
As Israel’s minister who's entrusted on combating anti-Semitism, I would like to clarify that the Israeli government and the vast majority of Israeli citizens see Elon Musk as an amazing entrepreneur and a role model. Criticism of Soros – who finances the most hostile…
— עמיחי שיקלי – Amichai Chikli (@AmichaiChikli) May 18, 2023
Touching off the controversy on Monday, Musk said that Soros “reminds me of Magneto,” a comic book villain who features in Marvel’s X-Men series. The character, like Soros, is a Holocaust survivor.
In a follow-up comment, Musk said, “He wants to erode the very fabric of civilization. Soros hates humanity.”
While Musk has railed against progressive policies, what prompted his attack on Soros wasn’t clear. On the same day as the tweets, however, Soros’s family investment office cashed out its investment in Tesla, Musk’s electric car company.
The Foreign Ministry linked Musk’s comments to antisemitism.
“The phrase ‘The Jews’ spiked today on the list of topics trending on Twitter following a tweet with antisemitic overtones by none other than the owner and CEO of the social network, Elon Musk,” the Foreign Ministry tweeted on its official account.
It said that Musk’s tweet “immediately led to antisemitic conspiracy theories on Twitter.”
Separately, the ministry’s Director of Digital Diplomacy David Saranga tweeted a screenshot of Twitter trending numbers showing that, on Tuesday morning, there were 27,900 recent tweets using the phrase “The Jews.”
Tweets were “filled with antisemitic conspiracies and hate speech targeting Jews around the world,” Saranga wrote. “Unfortunately Twitter does nothing to address this problem.”
Cohen later disavowed the statements, however.
“There will be no more tweets like that,” Cohen said, according to Hebrew media reports, in a rare instance of a minister refuting a statement from their own ministry.
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt called Musk’s remark “dangerous” and encouraging to anti-Jewish extremists.
“Soros often is held up by the far-right, using antisemitic tropes, as the source of the world’s problems,” Greenblatt tweeted. “To see Elon Musk, regardless of his intent, feed this segment — comparing him to a Jewish supervillain, claiming Soros ‘hates humanity’ — is not just distressing, it’s dangerous: it will embolden extremists who already contrive anti-Jewish conspiracies and have tried to attack Soros and Jewish communities as a result.”
Musk fired back, saying, “ADL should just drop the ‘A,’” meaning that the group, which is the most prominent antisemitism watchdog in the United States, should instead be named the “Defamation League.”
The back-and-forth came as Twitter has faced criticism over its lax hate speech policies in the months since Musk, one of the world’s richest people, bought the platform last year.
Soros, 92, has long been a target of conservatives for backing progressive causes and politicians in the United States and worldwide. In the last decade or so, some of the attacks have echoed antisemitic conspiracy theories, depicting Soros as satanic, accusing him of seeking world control and falsely accusing him of helping perpetrate the Holocaust rather than surviving it as a child.
These conspiracy theories accelerated after the 2016 election of Donald Trump, who made Soros a focus of his final campaign ad that year and who has relentlessly portrayed Soros as a villain as he runs for the 2024 election.
Musk, who calls himself a free speech absolutist, has reinstated the Twitter accounts of right-wing extremists who had previously been banned, a move that alarmed Jewish anti-bigotry groups. He suspended some of the extremists again after they returned to posting hateful tweets.
In December, Musk disbanded an advisory group focused on “Trust and Safety” on Twitter, and in March, a study by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue think tank found that antisemitism more than doubled on the platform in the months since Musk took it over.