| 22 February 2024, Thursday |

Israel hosts wartime visit by Elon Musk, eyes Starlink for Gaza

 Israel welcomed Elon Musk, stating it had achieved an agreement in principle to deploy his SpaceX company’s Starlink communications in the Gaza Strip, where a truce in the assault against Hamas coincided with his visit.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog has scheduled an afternoon meeting with Musk. They 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 Sept. 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.

Last month, as the war raged following a Hamas killing and kidnapping spree in southern Israel, 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, saying “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”.

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.

Antisemitism and Islamophobia have risen worldwide, including during the seven-week-old Gaza war. Israel and Hamas are now in a temporary truce, with some Gaza hostages and Palestinians held by Israel for security offences going free.

On Nov. 15, Musk agreed with a post on X 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”.

Major U.S. companies including Walt Disney, Warner Bros Discovery and NBCUniversal parent Comcas paused their advertisements on his social media site.

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.”

Following the outbreak of the Gaza war, antisemitic incidents in the United States rose by nearly 400% from the year-earlier period, according to the Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit organisation that fights antisemitism.

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”.

  • Reuters