Pushing back against accusations of antisemitism, Elon Musk has in recent months visited Israel, hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Tesla factory in California and repeatedly insisted he bears no animus toward Jews.
On Monday, he took his penitence tour to a new level, declaring himself “aspirationally Jewish” after a visit to the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz in southern Poland, where he lit a candle in memory of the millions of Jews murdered in the Holocaust.
Mr. Musk, the owner of X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, stirred outrage — and an exodus of advertisers — in November when he endorsed an antisemitic post on X as “the actual truth.” The post accused Jewish communities of pushing “hatred against whites” and supporting the immigration of “hordes of minorities.”
The White House denounced Mr. Musk for “abhorrent promotion of antisemitic and racist hate.”
He quickly apologized for his intervention, saying “it might be literally the worst and dumbest post I’ve ever done.” He has been scrambling since to calm the outcry and halt the flight of advertisers.
But his atonement has come in fits and starts. After apologizing for giving a thumbs up to an antisemitic theory about Jews conspiring to dilute the white population, he used an interview with Andrew Ross Sorkin of The New York Times to tell unhappy advertisers to get lost in vulgar terms and accused them of trying to blackmail him. He also threatened to take legal action against the Anti-Defamation League, a rights group that has complained about the rise in antisemitism on X.
He is now back to presenting his less pugnacious, more understanding side.
After a visit to Israel in late November, during which he toured a kibbutz where dozens of people were killed during the Hamas terrorist attack on Oct. 7, Mr. Musk on Monday toured the site of what once was the Auschwitz concentration camp with his 3-year-old son. He was escorted by Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the chairman and founder of the European Jewish Association.
Speaking later at a conference on antisemitism organized by the association in the nearby Polish city of Krakow, Mr. Musk said he had been “somewhat naïve” about the dangers posed by anti-Jewish sentiment because “in the circles I move in, I see no antisemitism.”
“Two-thirds of my friends are Jewish,” he said. “I’m Jewish by association. I’m aspirationally Jewish.”
He added that “it blew my mind” to see protesters at elite U.S. colleges showing support for Hamas by chanting slogans against Israel and its right to exist. “At elite campuses you are supposed to be enlightened, not sponsoring hate,” he said.
At the same time, however, he repeated his longstanding position — as a self-declared “free speech absolutist” — that censorship is not a good way to counter hate speech, noting that one of the first things Hitler did after coming to power in Germany in 1933 was to “shut down the press” and silence critical voices.
Mr. Musk has faced a storm of criticism from the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish groups in the United States that say he has allowed X to become a vessel for antisemitic hatred since he purchased the platform for $44 billion in October 2022.
A study last year by two British groups found that the number of “plausibly antisemitic” posts rose by 105 percent in the months after Mr. Musk took control of the platform and relaxed safeguards against hate speech. “Our data presents a clear picture: antisemitism spiked on Twitter” after Mr. Musk bought it and “has stayed at an elevated level in the months thereafter,” the groups said in a report.
Manuel Valls, a former French prime minister who attended the Krakow conference, warned that social media has helped spread antisemitism under the guise of criticism of Israel, particularly its military assault on Gaza, in which around 25,000 Palestinians have been killed. Describing antisemitism as both “hatred of Jews and hatred of Israel,” Mr. Vals said social media was now playing a particularly dangerous role. “It is here that the main battle will take place,” he said.
A video presentation before Mr. Musk took the stage in Krakow to answer questions from the right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro presented social media as a force for good that, had it existed in the 1930s, could have reduced the scale of the Holocaust by alerting Europe’s Jews to Hitler’s death camps and allowing them to flee before it was too late.
Mr. Musk said he had seen film from Auschwitz, which was liberated by the Soviet Army in January 1945, “but it hits you much more in the heart when you see it in person. I’m still absorbing the tragedy of what happened.”