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Netanyahu and Elon Musk talk antisemitism, judicial reform during friendly chat streamed on X

(JTA) – Elon Musk is famous for cracking down on staffers who criticize him, whether at Tesla, the electric car company he owns, or at X, the social media platform he purchased and renamed from Twitter.

So his confession to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the pair’s livestreamed conversation on Monday was notable.

“I, to be frank, probably got the most negative pushback from people at Tesla about this interview than anything else I’ve ever done,” Musk said.

Netanyahu and Musk entered the conversation dogged by criticism, Musk over his inflammatory statements about a Jewish civil rights group that has sought to tamp down hate speech on X and Netanyahu over his government’s efforts to overhaul Israel’s judiciary. In that context, Monday’s conversation was perhaps an opportunity for the two men — both right-wingers who trumpet the promises of technology — to find respite in a friendly conversation. Netanyahu wore a dark suit with an Israeli flag lapel pin. Musk, also the CEO of SpaceX, wore a partially unbuttoned white shirt and blue blazer with a patch that appeared to show spacecraft.

Israeli tech workers abroad, many living in the San Francisco Bay Area where the conversation took place, have been leaders in the movement of expats against the judicial overhaul. Musk mentioned anti-Netanyahu protests in San Francisco as he let Netanyahu know that he had faced criticism for choosing to sit down with the Israeli prime minister.

Local Jewish leaders in the Bay Area say the prime minister declined to meet with them during his visit to the area, which precedes his appearance at the United Nations in New York later in the week. The area’s Jewish Community Relations Council, which tried to set up a meeting with Netanyahu, sent him a letter referencing Musk’s inflammatory statements.

“We hope that you use your position of leadership to press for sorely needed reforms to protect Jews and other minorities from rising hate online,” the letter said. “Just last week, X owner Elon Musk fanned the flames of antisemitism by demonizing the Anti-Defamation League and amplifying white supremacist conspiracies.”

The letter also said that any changes to Israel’s judicial system need to occur via consensus, and urged the prime minister “to work with the president and opposition leaders to heal today’s divides and forge a unified path.”

Speaking with Musk, Netanyahu laid out his defense of the judicial overhaul, saying it was an effort to curb “the most activist judicial court on the planet,” and that he hoped to be a moderate consensus-builder. He added, “Israel will always be a democratic country.”

Regarding the protesters, Netanyahu said his conversation with Musk was “a good opportunity to tell people who are protesting, too, at least so they know what they’re protesting about. Because I think many of them don’t know. And there’s a concerted effort to make sure they don’t know.”

The two men appeared to get along, riffing on James Bond and “The Terminator,” and expressing admiration for Jewish science-fiction author Isaac Asimov. Musk also reminded the audience that he briefly attended a Hebrew preschool as a child in South Africa, and quipped, “I can sing a pretty good ‘Hava Nagila.’” At one point, Netanyahu asked what Musk would do if he were the “unofficial president” of the United States. (Musk, who was born in South Africa, is ineligible to become U.S. president.)

But Netanyahu also used the conversation to gently push Musk to consider how he can balance combating hate and maintaining a commitment to free speech on X.

The conversation followed accusations of antisemitism against Musk after he spent the past two weeks lambasting the Anti-Defamation League, which he blames for tanking X’s ad revenue, and threatening litigation against the Jewish civil rights group. During that time, he has also engaged with white supremacists on the platform. On Sunday, he posted that George Soros, the progressive Jewish megadonor and frequent target of antisemitic conspiracy theories, seeks “the destruction of western civilization.”

“I know your commitment to free speech. I respect that because it’s the foundational thing of democracies, really,” Netanyahu said. “But I also know your opposition to antisemitism. You’ve spoken about it, you’ve tweeted about it. And all I can say is I hope you can find within the confines of the First Amendment the ability to stop not only antisemitism, or roll it back as best you can, but any collective hatred of a people that antisemitism represents. And I know you’re committed to that. I hope you succeed in it. It’s not an easy task. But I encourage and urge you to find a balance. It’s a tough one.”

Musk responded that he is “against attacking any group. Doesn’t matter who it is.”

He added, “I’m in favor of that which furthers civilization and which ultimately leads us to become a space-bearing civilization where we understand the nature of the universe. So we can’t do that if there’s a lot of infighting and hatred and negativity. Obviously I’m against antisemitism.”

The conversation segued into a referendum on civilization. “If someone were, say, completely self-centered, how would you feel if you don’t have civilization?” Musk said. “It’s very easy to figure out. Just go into the forest with nothing. See how long you want to live there.”

“See how long you live. You’ll die very quickly,” Netanyahu said.

“I know, exactly,” Musk replied. “So, civilization, as it turns out, is pretty nice.”

The event had been marketed primarily as a chance to discuss the broader implications of artificial intelligence, which Netanyahu has previously discussed on the phone with Musk. They also participated in a roundtable discussion on artificial intelligence that also included Greg Brockman, the president and co-founder of artificial-intelligence company OpenAI, and Max Tegmark, a futurist and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor whose father is Jewish.

Musk has connections to both men: He was a founding board member of OpenAI and is a funder of Tegmark’s organization, the Future of Life Institute, which last year reportedly offered a grant to a Swedish pro-Nazi newspaper. During the roundtable, Netanyahu praised a book Tegmark wrote without mentioning his connection to the Nazi outlet.

Netanyahu sat on the sidelines of the A.I. roundtable that followed his conversation with Musk. The guests, Brockman and Tegmark, afforded Netanyahu little attention, beyond a brief mention by Brockman of the many Israelis who work at Open AI. At multiple points, the prime minister tried to press them on whether the advancement of A.I. technology would lead to a “concentration of power that will create a bigger and bigger distance between the haves and the have-nots,” but none of the futurists offered much sympathy for this point, and Tegmark likened Netanyahu’s concern to worrying about “hunter-gatherers” during the Industrial Revolution.

During their one-on-one conversation, Musk told Netanyahu that he thought A.I. was “potentially the biggest civilizational threat.”

“When you’re talking about having something that is an intelligence far in excess of the smartest human on earth, you have to say at that point, who’s in charge?” he added. “Is it the computers or the humans?”

Netanyahu hopes to position Israel as an A.I. industry leader, joking at one point, “You know what A.I. stands for. It stands for America and Israel, obviously.” He called the looming influence of A.I. “a choice between two things, a blessing and a curse,” comparing the dilemma to one posed by Moses when he “steered the children of Israel to the promised land.”

The post Netanyahu and Elon Musk talk antisemitism, judicial reform during friendly chat streamed on X appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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New Faculty Campaign Aims to Show Solidarity With Jewish Students

Anti-Israel students protest at Columbia University in New York City. Photo: Reuters/Jeenah Moon

Over 1,000 university professors will participate in a new campaign to show solidarity with Jewish students experiencing levels of antisemitism that are without precedent in the history of the United States, the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), which promotes academic freedom, announced on Tuesday.

Titled “KeeptheLightOn,” the initiative comes amid a reckoning of congressional investigations, lawsuits, and civil rights inquiries prompted by an explosion of antisemitic discrimination at some of America’s most prestigious universities. It will see the formation of a new group, the Faculty Against Antisemitism Movement (FAAM), comprising professors from across the US who will pressure senior administrators at their schools to address anti-Jewish hatred as robustly as other forms of racism.

“We have written books, op-eds, and articles, but they are not penetrating the echo chamber of anti-Zionist antisemitism,” Southwestern University English professor Michael Saenger said in a press release. “As with previous protest movements, visual displays are sometimes necessary to get people to stop demonizing marginalized groups. We need to respond to bullying and hate, directed against ourselves and Jewish students, more directly and more personally: by visibly advocating for a university that treats Jews as people, and that treats Israel as a nation.”

As part of the campaign, FAAM professors will leave their office lights on after hours to “publicly demonstrate their commitment to fighting antisemitism.” AEN added on Tuesday that the lights will “also symbolize the faculty’s commitment to ‘light a fire’ under administrators to ensure a better academic year ahead.”

“Keep the Light On” was inspired by University of California, Berkeley professor Richard Hassner, who last month held what was widely believed to be the first teacher “sleep-in” protest of antisemitism, AEN said. For two weeks, Hassner lived in his office until administrators agreed to stop an anti-Zionist group’s blockade of a campus foot-bridge which made it impossible for Jewish students to cross without being verbally abused.

Numerous Jewish faculty members at other campuses have also begun stepping up and demanding a change. Some have organized faculty trips to Israel. Others have cobbled their peers together to form groups — such as Yale’s Forum for Jewish Faculty & Friends and Indiana University’s Faculty and Staff for Israel — which have since grown exponentially and will serve as a well of support for FAAM.

“The FAAM initiative is both a distressing sign of the times and a hopeful symbol for the future not only for Jews but also for the academy,” Smith College professor and AEN advisory board member Donna Robinson Divine said. “An academy that has become the core location for an activism promoting social justice cannot sustain its credibility by tolerating hostile attacks against its Jewish student and faculty. Nor can education leaders preserve the legitimacy of the universities over which they preside by ignoring the recycling of this old and dangerous hatred. Rooting out antisemitism in classrooms, lecture halls, and social gatherings is thus as important for Jewish students and faculty as it is for the academy and the nation.”

As The Algemeiner has previously reported, Jewish college students have never faced such extreme levels of hatred. Since Oct. 7 — when Hamas-led Palestinian terrorists invaded Israel, massacred 1,200 people, and kidnapped 253 others as hostages — they have endured death threats, physical assaults, and volleys of racist verbal attacks unlike anything seen in the US since the 1950s.

Many college officials at first responded to the problem sluggishly, according to critics, who noted universities offered a host of reasons for why antisemitic speech should be protected even as they censored students and professors who uttered statements perceived as being conservative. At the same time, progressive thought leaders came under fire for hesitating to acknowledge a swelling of antisemitic attitudes in institutions and organizations reputed to be champions of civil rights and persecuted minority groups. One recent study found that US universities have demonstrated an “anti-Jewish double standard” by responding to Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel and the ensuing surge in campus antisemitism much less forcefully than they did to crimes perpetrated against African Americans and Asians.

The situation changed after three presidents of elite universities were hauled before the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce to account for their handling of antisemitism and said on the record that there are cases in which they would decline to punish students who called for a genocide of the Jewish people. The stunning admissions prompted the resignations of Elizabeth M. Magill as president of University of Pennsylvania and eventually of Claudine Gay, Harvard University’s former president, who would not leave until a series of reporters exposed her as a serial plagiarist.

The US Congress is currently investigating whether several colleges intentionally ignored discrimination when its victims were Jewish. On Wednesday, its focus will shift to Columbia University, where Jewish students have been beaten up and harassed because they support Israel. The school’s president, Minouche Shafik, is scheduled to testify, and the event promises to be a much scrutinized affair.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post New Faculty Campaign Aims to Show Solidarity With Jewish Students first appeared on

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Adath Israel and Beth David: a pair of Conservative synagogues in Toronto narrowly decided against becoming one

It was close, but Toronto synagogues Adath Israel and Beth David will remain separate entities after Beth David’s vote on amalgamation fell short of the required two-thirds threshold. Adath Israel, the larger of the two Conservative synagogues by membership and facility size, voted overwhelmingly on April 14 to amalgamate, with 91 percent in favour. But […]

The post Adath Israel and Beth David: a pair of Conservative synagogues in Toronto narrowly decided against becoming one appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Amid Dimming Hopes That This Year Will Be in Jerusalem, Jews in Ethiopia Prepare for World’s Largest Seder

Jewish women in Ethiopia sort through grain to be used in baking matzot. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

The Jewish community in the embattled region of Gondar, Ethiopia is preparing for the world’s largest Passover Seder this year, with nearly 4,000 Ethiopian Jews residing in camps and awaiting immigration to Israel expected to attend.

Over 80,000 matzot have been baked by members of the community over the past several weeks in preparation for the holiday, Jeremy Feit, the president of the Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ) aid group, told The Algemeiner. A smaller Seder, with almost 1,000 attendees, will take place in the capital of Addis Ababa.

The Jewish holiday of Passover, which celebrates the Biblical story of the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt, will begin next Monday evening and end the following Tuesday.

A portion of the 80,000 matzot for use during Passover in Ethiopia. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

Past Passover Seders in Ethiopia have provided attendees a rare opportunity to partake in the traditional feast, offering some their first ever taste of meat — a luxury they could not otherwise afford. But according to Feit, food price hikes of 50 percent to 100 percent have meant that this year’s feast will largely consist of potatoes and eggs.

“With the extreme price increases and the resulting hunger, the community will feel the intensity as they pray to celebrate the Seder next year with their families in Jerusalem,” Feit said.

The Seder comes on the heels of an airlift of medical supplies for the beleaguered community, facilitated by SSEJ. Ten pallets of aid were delivered to a medical clinic established by the group a year ago in Gondar, serving 3,300 children and 700 elderly. The aid was dedicated in memory of former US Sen. Joe Lieberman, who served as SSEJ’s honorary chairman and who passed away during the weeks-long airlift operation.

SSEJ, which is based in the US  and entirely volunteer-run, is the only provider of humanitarian aid to Jews in Ethiopia. The group aims to mitigate some of the hunger ravaging the community by providing more than 2.5 million meals per year, prioritizing very young children, pregnant and nursing women, and students at a local yeshiva, who Feit said were often “so hungry they would faint in class.”

SSEJ and its leaders have assisted around 60,000 Ethiopians immigrate to Israel, more than the total number brought to the Jewish state during its storied military operations in 1984 and 1991.

Jewish men in Ethiopia need the dough that will be baked into matzot. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

According to Feit, some 13,000 Jews still remain in Ethiopia. Recent years have seen several hundred Ethiopian Jews immigrate to Israel at a time, especially during periods of violent civil strife, but even that trickle has dried up following the brutal Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel.

“The average person in Gondar and Addis Ababa has been waiting to make aliyah for 20 years,” Feit said, using the Hebrew term for immigration. “They left their villages with the thought that Israel was going to bring them in. And they’ve been left since as internally displaced refugees.”

Feit said the decades-long wait is especially painful for those with first-degree relatives in Israel, and is further compounded for those with relatives serving in the Israeli military.

“Jews in Ethiopia are extremely concerned about their [family members’] welfare as the IDF [Israel Defense Fores] battles Hamas terrorists” in Gaza, he explained. “They are especially concerned given the vastly disproportionate number of Ethiopian Jewish soldiers killed in Israel during the current conflict.” Jews in Ethiopia, he averred, comprise “one of the most Zionist communities in the world.”

Since Oct. 7, there has been no indication as to how many Ethiopian Jews will be brought to Israel and when. Those with relatives in Israel were struck with another blow when Israel’s economy took a hit following the Hamas onslaught, and many of those who rely on remittance from their loved ones in Israel stopped receiving money.

“This has left the Jews in Ethiopia in a dire situation, with food and medical care hard to come by. Living in squalor, without access to clean water, electricity, or even bathrooms, the malnourished Jews in Ethiopia suffer untold horrors,” Feit said.

Despite the grim depiction, Feit struck a more positive note about the upcoming holiday.

Ethiopian Jews eating matzot in synagogue last year. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

“Given that most of the year they’re feeling despair at their lack of redemption, at least Passover is a time to celebrate the possibility of redemption and reunification,” he said. “Being able to celebrate with thousands of their friends and family members in a joyous celebration of Passover is a welcome relief.”

The post Amid Dimming Hopes That This Year Will Be in Jerusalem, Jews in Ethiopia Prepare for World’s Largest Seder first appeared on

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