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Business leaders are ignoring Elon Musk's antisemitism
They're much quieter when antisemitism comes from the right than from the left
As a Jewish Harvard student, I’ve had a front row seat to elite backlash against pro-Palestinian activism on campus, including aggressive efforts to wreck the careers of young people over their criticisms of Israel.
The complaint, officially, is that their pro-Palestinian activism crosses the line into antisemitism, a debatable (though perhaps accurate in some cases) claim that would be more credible if the same elements in the business community weren’t oddly silent about Elon Musk’s repeated promotion of conspiracy theories about Jews in the diaspora. His November 15th tweet promoting “the great replacement” theory was unfortunately just the latest example of his tendency to dabble in this material. Musk has, rightly, attracted criticism in many quarters. But hedge fund manager Bill Ackman — who’s led the post-10/7 charge on campus — explicitly defended Musk, tweeting that he is “not an antisemite,” while the majority of influential donors and business leaders who’ve been pressuring university administrations over Israel have said and done nothing.
This creates, at best, the appearance of a double-standard. One hedge fund manager quipped to me that “my business friends only notice antisemitism when it comes from a woman of color.”
Of course, that’s not the only possible explanation. But whatever the motive, American Jews are not well-served by selective outrage or opportunistic alliances with right-wingers who undermine pluralism and tolerance here in the U.S.
Elon’s tweet and his history of antisemitism
On Wednesday, Elon posted an antisemitic reply to a white nationalist account on Twitter:
For context: The “great replacement” that Elon agreed with is a well-known far-right conspiracy theory that claims: (1) brown and Black immigrants are being brought illegally into Western countries to “replace” white voters to achieve leftist political goals, (2) these groups are directing governments to pursue policies that undermine the control of white people over countries, and (3) Jewish elites are the puppet masters driving this. The GRT is pretty well-known; Tucker Carlson promotes it regularly and in 2018, the Tree of Life synagogue shooter cited it in his manifesto.
This isn’t the first time Musk has promoted antisemites.
After buying Twitter, he reinstated prominent right-wing conspiracy theorists (many of whom are also white supremacists), including Nick Fuentes, Ye, Patrick Howley, Pepe Escobar, Santino Rice, Clif High, Scott Ritter, and Sam Hyde. After the Anti-Defamation League published a report that antisemitic hate speech had surged on Twitter after Musk’s takeover, Elon threatened to sue the ADL and accused it of being the “biggest generators” of antisemitism on Twitter. He also liked a tweet promoting the #BantheADL campaign.
Musk has repeatedly tweeted offensive Holocaust-related content. In 2022, he posted a picture of a Nazi soldier and a meme that compared Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Hitler. And last May, Musk compared Holocaust survivor and Jewish billionaire George Soros to Jewish comic book villain Magneto and said he “wants to erode the very fabric of civilization” — which many argued was antisemitic.
Elite silence on Elon’s antisemitism
Business and tech elites have been vocal about antisemitism on campus recently. Bill Ackman condemned pro-Palestine protesters at Harvard as antisemitic and tweeted that he was compiling a list of students associated with a pro-Palestine statement to ensure that he did not “inadvertently hire” them. At least a dozen CEOs backed Ackman’s efforts. Similarly, wealthy university donors including Mark Rowan (Apollo Global Management), Kenneth Griffin (founder of Citadel), Seth Klarman (CEO of the Baupost Group), and Lloyd Blankfein (former CEO of Goldman Sachs) have called out pro-Palestine protesters and publicly put pressure on university administrations to retaliate against them.
But these same elites have been much quieter about Elon’s promotion of the Great Replacement Theory.
I recently spoke with Kara Swisher about this, and she suggested: “It's easy to punch down at students and threaten their livelihoods and try to dox them, but they're not going to do that to Elon, because power is comfortable with power… When it comes to their paycheck, elites learn to be quiet about things they say matter to them.”
Bill Ackman went beyond silence and strongly defended Elon on Twitter:
Ackman is not the only Jewish leader who has lent his support to Elon; a day after his antisemitic tweet, Jonathan Greenblatt (the CEO of the ADL) applauded Elon for imposing new regulations against pro-Palestine speech on Twitter:
A tiny handful of businesspeople have bucked this trend and condemned Elon, including Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and a few Tesla institutional investors. But these are exceptions; overwhelmingly, elites have not called out Elon’s antisemitism — and in some cases, have even defended him. As Swisher says, elites have a huge incentive to stay on Elon’s good side. He has so many different financial levers and so many different companies (Tesla, SpaceX, Twitter, Neuralink) that alienating him could mean losing lucrative business opportunities.
Power is comfortable with power
But this is about more than Elon Musk. Swisher’s point that “power is comfortable with power” explains elite antisemitism discourse more broadly. Let’s talk again about my hedge fund friend’s point that business people call out antisemitism “only... when it comes from a woman of color.” He elaborated on this:
Many business people I know will cut Trump and Musk a break for antisemitism, because they see them as being in their Republican/capitalist/pro-Wall Street/pro-Israel tribe. But if AOC says something that’s pretty far from antisemitic, they will twist themselves into becoming incredibly sensitive, because she’s not on their political team — she’s left-wing and anti-Israel.
A tech CEO I interviewed agreed and said that his “Jewish friends and colleagues only complain about antisemitism on the left.”
Business and tech leaders eagerly lambasted student pro-Palestine protesters as antisemitic; and in my experience at Harvard, the majority of students involved in pro-Palestine activism are people of color. Many are women of color. When mobile-billboard trucks drove around Harvard Square displaying the words “Harvard’s Leading Antisemites” alongside the faces and names of students connected to a pro-Palestine statement, nearly every face I saw appeared to be Black, South Asian, or Arab, and many of the women were wearing hijabs. These same trucks have since visited Columbia, UPenn, and Yale.
Business elites targeted these left-wing students of color for their perceived antisemitism, but have repeatedly declined to call out blatant hatred from white leaders on the right. On November 17th, Jonathan Chait published an article chronicling the Republican Party’s deep-seated antisemitism:
Marjorie Taylor Greene, in addition to famously blaming forest fires on a space laser controlled by the Rothschilds, once wrote, “An unholy alliance of leftists, capitalists, and Zionist supremacists has schemed to promote immigration and miscegenation, with the deliberate aim of breeding us out of existence in our own homelands.” If Tlaib or Omar had ever written something half that crazy, their careers would be over. Greene is not only safe in Congress, she gained an influential role as adviser to former Speaker McCarthy.
Donald Trump routinely shares social-media memes generated by white supremacists, spreads gross antisemitic stereotypes, has inspired Nazis to become actively involved in conservative politics, and invited Kanye West and Nick Fuentes for dinner. Republicans excuse all of this.
Right-wing antisemitism is pervasive and incessant. Just this week, in addition to Elon Musk’s post, right-wing influencer Charlie Kirk attacked Jews in a video that went viral on social media and said: “Some of the largest financiers of left-wing anti-white causes have been Jewish Americans.” Charlie Kirk is an established political commentator with 2.6 million followers on Twitter. He has more power and influence than every pro-Palestinian student group in the Ivy League combined.
Yet most business leaders — who were so concerned about student protesters’ antisemitism — have stayed quiet on right-wing antisemitism. Whatever criticisms they’ve offered haven’t nearly matched the volume of their pushback against the left.
Elites have found that it’s easy to punch down at students of color; they apparently find it much harder to speak up when powerful right-wing white men espouse hatred.