Musk, Soros and Antisemitism “Under Erasure”

Elon Musk’s indirect attack by innuendo took place against the backdrop of the extraordinary growth of hate speech and antisemitic tweets on Twitter since he took over the company.

Some controversies generate more heat than light. Such is the case with the recent Musk-Soros imbroglio, including the Israeli angle. So, we have to clarify some basic aspects of this affair.

First, Elon Musk did not attack George Soros because the latter is anti-Israel or even because he is “progressive.” The two fabulously wealthy gentlemen had a business dispute – Soros unloaded shares he had held in one of Musk’s companies, causing a decrease in the stock price. Musk was annoyed and purportedly called Soros a “dirty Jew.” Only, he did not.

That is, he did not make any direct reference to Soros’s Jewishness. Rather, he compared him to Magneto, a comic book character with the power to control the world – an enemy of the human race (who happens to be Jewish and a Holocaust survivor).

Though he did not make any direct reference to Soros’s Jewishness, through this comparison, he attributed to Soros characteristics that antisemites typically invoke in their conspiracy theories about Jews – from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to the Nazi Der Sturmer. Thus, Musk deployed a mode of discourse some philosophers call “under erasure” (hat tip to the Irish scholar, Jonathon O’Donnell).

Not a direct attack, instead Musk used innuendo

The object is erased, yet is at the same time clearly visible. Musk can deny that he is an antisemite, yet somehow everyone seems to get the innuendo. This indirect attack by innuendo took place against the backdrop of the extraordinary growth of hate speech and antisemitic tweets on Twitter since Musk took over the company.

This mode of discourse is becoming increasingly widespread. Being explicitly antisemitic is still not acceptable, yet antisemitic attacks and slurs increase with each year. Antisemites – consciously or not – place Jews “under erasure,” with indirect innuendo instead of explicit attack. The question is how to respond.

Here is where the tweet of David Saranga, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Digital Diplomacy bureau, proves valuable. He pointed out that when ambiguous statements evoke a rash of explicitly antisemitic talkbacks and comments on the Web, they are antisemitic. Antisemites have little difficulty hearing the dog whistle. In other words, the responses of antisemites themselves are the criterion.

The issue became confused because the Israeli right-wing attack dogs went into Pavlovian overdrive and started frothing at the mouth because Soros was involved. But the issue was not about Soros, nor was it about Zionism or Israel. The issue between Musk and Soros was about money.

photo by: Debbie Rowe, Own work

The principled question is how to respond to contemporary forms of antisemitic discourse that are not explicit and work by innuendo “under erasure.” Even as acute an observer as Alan Dershowitz got it wrong in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal. Musk did not criticize Soros in regard to Israel (something that certainly ought to be done). He cursed him out as a Jew. Dershowitz, of all people, should know the difference.

Connections between Zionism and antisemitism

There is a not-so-secret connection between Zionism and antisemitism. Starting with Theodor Herzl, some of the Zionist movement’s most valuable allies and supporters have been antisemites. Prince Frederick, grand duke of Baden, who secured Herzl one of his most important accomplishments, an audience with the Kaiser, was an avowed antisemite.

Cooperation between Zionists and antisemites, including Nazis, continued throughout the first half of the 20th century. The source of this connection is not hard to find – both antisemites and Zionists share a disdain for Diaspora Jewry and its way of life.

The recent adulation of Musk and the affinity the Israeli right-wing government seems to have for practitioners of antisemitism “under erasure” seems to continue this historical trend. Hungary’s Victor Orban springs to mind.

Yet, despite this unholy affinity, there is a crucial difference between antisemitism and Zionism. Zionists want to redeem Diaspora Jewry; antisemites want to destroy it. The Israeli Right needs to be careful not to cross this line and become closer to the antisemites than they are to Zionism.

First published by The Jerusalem Post.