Billionaire Elon Musk visits Israel amid truce, eyes Starlink for besieged Gaza Strip

Billionaire Elon Musk visits Israel amid truce, eyes Starlink for besieged Gaza Strip
Musk, the controversial owner of X, is visiting Israel amid a possible agreement to provide Gaza with communications access via Starlink, and racism and disinformation controversy on the social media platform.
3 min read
27 November, 2023
Elon Musk has come under fire for mishandling the spread of disinformation and racist posts on X, formerly known as Twitter [Getty/file photo]

Israel hosted billionaire Elon Musk on Monday, saying it had reached an agreement in principle for using his SpaceX company's Starlink communications in the battered and besieged Gaza Strip, where a pause to  Israel's brutal war coincided with the tech entrepreneur's visit.

Musk's office has yet to comment on the trip.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog has scheduled an afternoon meeting with the billionaire, and will be joined by relatives of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza and will also discuss "the need to act to combat rising antisemitism online", Herzog's office said

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also due to meet Musk on Monday to discuss the security aspects of artificial intelligence and hold a live online discussion, Netanyahu's office said.

When they last met, in California on September 18, Netanyahu urged Musk to strike a balance between protecting free expression and fighting hate speech after weeks of controversy over antisemitism on X - the former Twitter.

During his trip to Israel, Musk has been criticised by pro-Palestinian activists for not visiting schools, hospitals and other bombarded facilities in Gaza, where close to 15,000 have been killed. Activists have also slammed the billionaire for not listening to Palestinian voices who have recounted Israeli atrocities in the strip, under the hashtag #VisitGaza.

Last month, as the war waged in Gaza, where telecommunications were often cut off, among other necessities, Musk proposed using Starlink to support communication links in the blackout-hit Gaza enclave with "internationally recognised aid organizations".

At the time, Israeli Communications Shlomo Karhi objected, claiming that "Hamas will use it (Starlink) for terrorist activities".

But in a new tack, Karhi said on Monday that Israel and Musk had reached an agreement in principle whereby "Starlink satellite units can only be operated in Israel with the approval of the Israeli Ministry of Communications, including the Gaza Strip".

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In an X post addressed to Musk, Karhi said he hoped the visit to Israel "will serve as a springboard for future endeavors, as well as enhance your relationship with the Jewish people and values we share with the entire world".

Musk has said he is against antisemitism and anything that "promotes hate and conflict" - including on X, though he has come under fire on a number of occasions for making or agreeing with statements deemed controversial and racist.

The Tesla billionaire has also been slammed for how he has handled the social media platform, ever since his takeover last year.

Antisemitism, Islamophobia, misinformation and disinformation have risen worldwide, including during the seven-week-old Gaza war. Israel and Hamas are now in the last 24 hours of a temporary truce, with some Israel and international hostages and Palestinians jailed in Israel prisons being released.

Musk agreed with a post on X in November that falsely claimed Jewish people were stoking hatred against white people, saying the user who referenced the "Great Replacement" conspiracy theory was speaking "the actual truth".

The White House condemned what it called an "abhorrent promotion of antisemitic and racist hate" that "runs against our core values as Americans". 

The "Great Replacement" conspiracy theory holds that Jewish people and leftists are engineering the ethnic and cultural replacement of white populations with non-white immigrants that will lead to a "white genocide."

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Musk has said X should be a platform for people to post diverse viewpoints, but the company will limit the distribution of certain posts that may violate its policies, calling the approach "freedom of speech, not reach".

The social media platform has gone on to lose millions of dollars in revenue with multiple companies pulling their advertisements on his social media site.