Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for The Times of London, her personal and political memoir, Guardian Angel, has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, The Legacy, in 2018. To access her work, go to: melaniephillips.substack.com.
(JNS) The cage fight now taking place between the Anti-Defamation League and the world’s richest man Elon Musk is, as Oscar Wilde might have observed, a contest between the unspeakable and the uneatable.
It also illustrates the extreme confusion and dangers of a world that’s torn up its moral maps
The ADL has produced evidence that antisemitic posts on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, increased sharply after Musk bought the site in Oct. 2022. Musk, a zealot for free speech, reinstated previously banned white supremacists, conspiracy theorists and others who spread malice and demonization against assorted individuals and groups.
At the end of last month, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt had a meeting with his counterpart at X, Linda Yaccarino. The meeting appeared to have been civil, with a subsequent public exchange of pleasantries.
Shortly afterwards, though, Musk threatened to sue the ADL for trying to “kill” X by “falsely accusing it and me of being antisemitic.” Blaming the ADL for a 60% drop in advertising sales, he declared, “It looks like we have no choice but to file a defamation lawsuit against the Anti-Defamation League … oh the irony!”
There are, however, multiple ironies in this affair.
Greenblatt, now presenting himself as an embattled defender of the Jewish people against Jew-hatred on the far-right, stands accused of having long smoothed the way for Jew-haters on the left. A former Obama administration official, Greenblatt has been accused of perverting the foundational aims of the ADL, which are to fight the defamation of the Jewish people and oppose unjust discrimination in general.
He has indeed followed the left-wing playbook in treating liberalism as a religion, displaying a pathological hatred of both Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former U.S. President Donald Trump, and targeting conservatives while ignoring or minimizing the Jew-hatred on the left that has become far more powerful and lethal than Jew-hatred on the right.
In 2020, as Liel Leibowitz wrote in Tablet, Greenblatt spearheaded the reputational rehabilitation of Al Sharpton, the African-American demagogue who has a history of vicious anti-Jewish bigotry and incitement.
In 2016, Greenblatt was forced to zigzag over Keith Ellison, a senior Democrat who had supported the virulent Jew-basher and leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan.
Having first called Ellison “a man of good character” who had been “an important ally in the fight against antisemitism and for human rights,” Greenblatt reversed himself when the Investigative Project on Terrorism unearthed Ellison’s claim that U.S. policy was entirely driven by Jews.
Greenblatt is accordingly loathed by Jewish conservatives. As a result, there’s been a tendency among some prominent members of the community to side with Musk against Greenblatt. “The ADL is only anti-defamation if you agree with their far-left views. If not, they will defame you,” wrote Chaya Raichik from Libs of TikTok. “They aren’t anti-defamation at all. Turns out, they’ll also push to ban accounts they don’t like and now Elon is exposing them!”
Stephen Miller, a former Trump advisor who is Jewish, similarly attacked the ADL as an “ultra-left activist org that pushes radical transgenderism, border erasure, police dismantlement and the demolition of free speech,” alleging that the organization’s stances contradict its Jewish origins.
All this may be true. However, in taking this position, Jewish conservatives have acquired some deeply unsavory bedfellows. Musk is also being noisily backed by far-right Jew-haters such as conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the Irish white nationalist and self-described “raging antisemite” Keith Woods and the “Groypers” led by Nick Fuentes.
This enabled Musk to crow, in response to a video clip of Alex Jones branding the ADL “pro-Hitler”: “The ADL, because they are so aggressive in their demands to ban social media accounts for even minor infractions, are ironically the biggest generators of antisemitism on this platform!” Blaming the Jews for antisemitism is, of course, classic anti-Jewish scapegoating.
Indeed, Musk himself is hardly someone with whom the Jewish community can or should feel comfortable.
First, he is a demonstrably volatile and capricious character prone to exploding like one of his own space rockets.
Furthermore, his charge against the ADL seems unjustified. The group isn’t calling Musk or X antisemitic, but rather criticizing the company for failing to take action against Jew-hatred on its platform.
Musk’s own record on Jewish issues has also raised eyebrows. He has insisted that while he is “pro-free speech,” he is also “against antisemitism of any kind.”
Yet in his attempt to clear his name of antisemitism, he has been flirting with antisemitic tropes such as string-pulling Jewish global power. He “liked” a tweet by Keith Woods that said: “The ADL’s favorite tactic is financially blackmailing social media companies into removing free speech on their platforms.”
He also implicitly endorsed the hashtag campaign “#BantheADL,” the attempt to shut down the ADL that’s being pushed by far-right and Jew-bashing extremists, by replying, “Perhaps we should run a poll on this.”
This noxious alliance has been seized upon by Greenblatt. “ADL is unsurprised yet undeterred that antisemites, white supremacists, conspiracy theorists and other trolls have launched a coordinated attack on our organization,” said a spokesman.
This undoubted truth nevertheless reflects the tragic and dangerous confusion on the left that sees antisemitism as a right-wing phenomenon and ignores the key role it unfortunately plays in today’s “liberal” thinking.
That mindset (with a few exceptions) has defined Greenblatt’s agenda at the ADL and caused many Jewish conservatives to view him as someone who aids the enemies of the Jewish people. But to back Musk against him shows an equivalent confusion among those Jews, who are understandably enraged by the damage Greenblatt has done.
This is not a fight in which Jews can properly pick a side. The ADL’s record may be reprehensible. But it is nevertheless correct in calling out X for doing nothing to suppress the Jew-hatred on its site.
As Seth Mandel, the editor of the Washington Examiner who has been a long-standing opponent of the ADL, posted on X: “The groypers tweeting ‘ban the ADL’ are bad people with bad intentions and bad designs. Don’t be fooled, don’t ‘consider their argument,’ they are ghouls who hate you. No nuance.”
The more fundamental problem here, however, is that the West has lost its moral compass.
There is a difference between freedom and anarchy. Free speech cannot be an absolute. It cannot be used to promote incitement to violence or other harm to individuals or groups.
The unique and unequivocal harm done by antisemitism, however, isn’t generally recognized. It is not merely offensive. It is a malicious and deranged mindset that incites not just hatred of Jews but the belief that they are the mortal enemies of everyone else. It thus puts a target for destruction on the back of every Jew.
A decent and civilized society once understood where the rare limitations on free speech should be drawn. The difficulty today is that, on the left, harm has been interpreted as the mere giving of offense. That’s why liberals try to silence those with whose opinions they merely disagree.
That censorship is what Musk bought Twitter to combat. Unfortunately, his own libertarian position doesn’t hold the line for decent and civilized values.
In today’s deeply polarized culture, too many people think that my enemy’s enemy must be my friend. If Greenblatt is hateful, Musk must be the good guy, and vice versa. But life doesn’t divide like that. It’s surely a cause for dismay that both Greenblatt and Musk have achieved the positions they occupy.
Haters may indeed be hateful, but they may also be hated by other hateful people. Jews, of all people, should understand that.