Laughing, Elon Musk defended his remarks accusing Holocaust survivor and liberal donor George Soros of trying to weaken human civilization, despite pleas from Jewish advocates and reports that the Israeli government had condemned his rhetoric.
“I’ll say what I want to say, and if the consequence of that is losing money, so be it,” the Tesla and SpaceX founder said in an interview on CNBC Tuesday evening.
The previous night, Musk had used the social media platform he owns, Twitter, to compare Soros to a Marvel supervillain who also survived the Holocaust, amplifying long-standing conspiracy theories that the 92-year-old Hungarian American Jew uses his billions of dollars to undermine society.
“I said he reminds me of Magneto. You know calm down people,” Musk told CNBC interviewer David Faber, and laughed loudly.
“You said he wants to erode the very fabric of civilization and Soros hates humanity,” Faber replied, quoting Musk’s follow-up tweets.
“Yeah,” Musk said. “I think that’s true. That’s my opinion.”
Jewish leaders had spent much of the day dealing with the consequences of Musk’s opinions.
Ted Deutch, chief executive of the American Jewish Committee, called them “the Protocols of the Elders of Zion for the internet age” — referencing a notorious forged document that accuses Jews of conspiring to weaken global civilization.
“It will embolden extremists who already contrive anti-Jewish conspiracies and have tried to attack Soros and Jewish communities as a result,” Anti-Defamation LeagueCEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted. Musk later replied that the organization should drop the “Anti” from its name.
Israeli newspapers reported that the government’s foreign ministry had released a statement saying Musk’s tweets “smelled of antisemitism ” or had “antisemitic overtones,” although The Washington Post could not immediately confirm the translation. David Saranga, an official in the Israeli foreign ministry, noted that antisemitic comments subsequently trended on Twitter under the hashtag, “the Jews.” “Twitter does nothing to address this problem,” he noted.
Sitting with Musk that evening at a Tesla manufacturing plant in Austin, Faber pressed him to explain his incendiary rhetoric.
“Why share it when people who buy Teslas may not agree with you, advertisers on Twitter may not agree with you? Why not just say, ‘Hey, I think this.’ You can tell me, we can talk about it over there, you can tell your friends — but why share it widely?”
“I mean, uh, freedom of speech. I’m allowed to say what I want,” Musk replied, falling back on an argument he has used often since he purchased Twitter last year and set about undoing the platform’s restrictions on hate speech. (Musk did not mention that days earlier, Twitter agreed to censor some users critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the eve of an election in that country.)
The CNBC host pressed Musk one more time. “I’m trying to understand why you do it, because it puts you in the middle of a partisan divide in the country,” Faber said. “It makes you a lightning rod for critics. Do you like that? You know people today are saying, he’s an antisemite. I don’t think you are.”
“No, definitely, I’m like a pro-semite if anything,” said Musk, who then changed the subject. “We don’t want to make this a George Soros interview.”