Elon Musk’s Israel trip: What was the purpose, what did he tell Netanyahu?

X CEO Elon Musk, who has been accused of platforming anti-Semitic posts, visits kibbutzim attacked by Hamas.

Elon Musk in suit walking with other people
Netanyahu has prodded Musk to control anti-Semitism on X [File: Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo]

Billionaire tycoon Elon Musk, who has been accused of platforming anti-Semitic content on his social media platform X, on Monday met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to Israel.

Accompanied by Netanyahu, the tech billionaire also visited a kibbutz that was raided by Hamas fighters on October 7, during an assault that left 1,200 people dead and triggered Israel’s deadliest-ever military assault on Gaza. Nearly 15,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel’s bombardment of the coastal enclave.

Musk was said to have backed Israel’s war on Gaza after the trip that came during the truce between Hamas and Israel.

Musk also agreed to not provide internet access to Gaza through his satellite company Starlink without Israeli approval.

Here is what to know about Musk’s visit to Israel and its significance.

Why did Elon Musk visit Israel?

Musk’s visit to Israel, which came amid a truce between Hamas and Israel, follows backlash against a post on X that many have labelled as anti-Semitic, triggering a wave of advertisement withdrawals from the platform by corporate giants such as Apple and IBM, potentially costing X millions of dollars.

Earlier this month, Musk agreed with a social media post accusing Jewish people of pushing “dialectical hatred” against white people. Musk’s remarks received condemnation in the United States from the White House for being “abhorrent”.

Musk has also been accused of allowing advertisements from major corporations next to neo-Nazi and white nationalist content.

X is also facing a probe from the European Union into the spread of disinformation and violent content about Israel’s war on Gaza.

Musk has either criticised or denied findings from organisations such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Center for Countering Digital Hate that X has witnessed an increase in hate speech since he became CEO last year.

X has sued Media Matters after accusing the media watchdog of manipulating an algorithm to drive away advertisers.

The watchdog has called the lawsuit “frivolous”.

Where did Musk go and what did he say during the trip?

Escorted by Netanyahu and other security personnel, Musk toured the Kfar Aza kibbutz, attacked by Hamas fighters on October 7. He was also shown footage of the Hamas attack and met some of the families of people taken into captivity from Israel.

“It was jarring to see the scene of the massacre,” said Musk later in an X Spaces conversation with Netanyahu, adding Israel has “no choice” but to eliminate Hamas.

In the brief life-streamed conversation on X, Musk and Netanyahu agreed that Hamas needs to be eradicated – a mission that Israel has used as justification for its military offensive that has claimed overwhelmingly civilian lives.

“You first have to get rid of the poisonous regime as you did in Germany, as you did in Japan. Yeah, in World War II,” said Netanyahu.

Musk replied, “There’s no choice. There’s no choice.”

Israeli President Isaac Herzog told Musk during a meeting that he had a huge role to play in the global fight against anti-Semitism.

“We have to do whatever is necessary to stop the hate,” Musk replied, according to a statement released by Herzog’s office.

Why did Netanyahu escort him weeks after asking him to condemn anti-Semitism?

On the X space, Netanyahu said that Musk’s visit to Israel points to his solidarity with Israel.

“The fact that you came here, I think, speaks volumes to your commitment to try to secure a better future”, he said.

Netanyahu reminded Musk that the last time they spoke, the two had a conversation about artificial intelligence. He told the tech CEO that “great talents are available” in Israel and pointed to Israeli manufacturing of iPhones and operations of the navigation app, Waze.

Netanyahu previously met Musk in California on September 18 where the Israeli prime minister urged him to strike a balance between protecting free expression and fighting hate speech after weeks of controversy over anti-Semitism on X.

Musk responded by saying he was against anti-Semitism and against anything that “promotes hate and conflict”, repeating his previous statements that X would not promote hate speech.

An Israeli government source described Monday’s visit as a follow-up to the September meeting.

Why Musk’s trip is being criticised?

Musk’s visit to Israel is being criticised by some supporters of Israel and Palestine.

Esther Solomon, editor-in-chief of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, blasted Musk’s trip as a “PR visit” in a post on X.

In an opinion piece on the news site, Haaretz correspondent Ben Samuels also said Israel’s embrace of Musk is a “betrayal of Jews” and a “stain on Netanyahu’s legacy”.

Musk has also been questioned online for not visiting Gaza despite the deaths and destruction wrought on the territory by Israeli bombs.

Musk reached an agreement with Israel “in principle” that internet access to Gaza may be provided through Starlink, but only using units operated by Israel and with the approval of the Israeli Ministry of Communications.

In October, CEO Musk had said that “Starlink will support connectivity to internationally recognised aid organisations in Gaza.”

As Gaza plunged into darkness after its communications blackout in October, social media users pleaded with Musk to provide the besieged enclave with internet access through Starlink.

The company uses satellite technology instead of cable technology to provide internet access, and also came to the aid of Ukraine when the country faced its own blackouts during its war with Russia.

Musk’s instant provision of Starlink access to Ukraine prompted people to call him out for having “double standards” when it came to Israel’s war on Gaza.

Israel has also previously opposed Starlink connectivity for Gaza, contesting that Hamas would use it for “terrorist activities”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies