(JTA) — Days after Elon Musk threatened to sue the Anti-Defamation League for billions of dollars and amplified a hashtag spread by white supremacists, the ADL’s CEO praised Musk’s business acumen but called his behavior “frustrating” and said he was spreading “age-old tropes” around blaming Jews for antisemitism.
“I’ve always tried to treat Elon and everyone at the company with respect and forthright manner and a constructive approach. I would do that again,” Greenblatt told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Wednesday.
“The truth is that he has been, Elon Musk, a great innovator in some respects, in many respects in his business pursuits,” Greenblatt said. “That’s why it’s all the more frustrating to see him engaging online with users who are espousing antisemitism and hate.”
Greenblatt’s comments came some 36 hours after Musk fired off a stream of posts on X, the social media platform he owns and renamed from Twitter, in which he accused the ADL of trying to tank the platform by encouraging an ad boycott against it.
Amid those posts, Musk directly engaged with a white supremacist on the platform and liked a post that included the hashtag #BanTheADL, which grew popular among antisemitic users. The ADL said in a statement that neo-Nazi marchers in Florida last weekend chanted “Ban the ADL.”
Musk also tweeted that he is “pro free speech, but against anti-Semitism of any kind” and that he would remove the ADL from the platform only if it broke the law.
Multiple times, Greenblatt made clear that the ADL does not see itself as right-wing or left-wing, and compared the hashtag #BanTheADL to the hashtag #DropTheADL, which represented a campaign in 2020 by progressive nonprofits to discourage partnership with the ADL.
But as the group’s surveys have documented a rising tide of antisemitism, Greenblatt said the recent hashtag is dangerous because it could motivate attacks not just against the ADL but against Jews.
“If you look at all the #BanTheADL messaging, here is, I think, the key takeaway: This is not about the ADL,” Greenblatt said. “Of course it is on some level, but it is really about the Jews. We are being used as a stand-in for our entire community.”
Some Jewish activists on the right and left who have been highly critical of the ADL seem to agree, and have also spoken out in recent days against users calling to #BanTheADL.
“We signed onto the #DropTheADL letter, proudly,” posted the group Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, referring to the 2020 progressive effort. “So let’s be clear that this B@n the ADL hashtag is a Nazi campaign targeting what they see as a stand-in for Jews. It’s not disagreement. It’s not ‘anti-ADL.’ It’s antisemitic Nazi garbage, period.”
Conservative journalist Seth Mandel, who has repeatedly criticized Greenblatt, posted, in reference to a hate group, “The groypers tweeting ‘ban the ADL’ are bad people with bad intentions and bad designs.”
Greenblatt and the ADL have had something of a roller-coaster relationship with Musk’s Twitter. In October 2022, Greenblatt praised Musk, who owns the electric car company Tesla, as “an amazing entrepreneur and extraordinary innovator” and “the Henry Ford of our time,” a comparison he has since walked back owing to Ford’s outspoken antisemitism.
“I didn’t deliver the analogy very well,” he said Wednesday.
Greenblatt had a meeting with Musk, and about a month later, the ADL and NAACP led a call for companies to pause their advertising on Twitter to protest what they saw as his dismantling of guardrails against hate speech. At one point, according to the Forward, the ADL resumed paid advertising on Twitter. It told JTA on Wednesday that its paid ads had ceased, though its official X accounts, including Greenblatt’s, still pay a monthly fee for verification that enables certain features on the platform .
In the intervening months, the ADL has criticized some of Musk’s actions and statements, including invective he posted against George Soros, a liberal Jewish megadonor and frequent focus of antisemitic conspiracy theories. It also acceded to his call to condemn a South African apartheid-era protest song calling for white farmers to be killed.
Last week, Greenblatt tweeted that he had a “frank + productive conversation” with Linda Yaccarino, the CEO of X, about hate speech on the platform. By Friday, #BanTheADL was trending after being posted by a white supremacist and days later, Musk began his series of posts threatening litigation against the group.
That included a post in which Musk wrote, replying to a white supremacist, “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 anti-Semitism on this platform!”
Asked whether he thought Musk was espousing antisemitism and hate, Greenblatt sighed and said Musk was “engaging with users who are blatantly and boldly doing so, and that’s very problematic. I would say that blaming the Jews or ADL for antisemitism also kind of evokes the age-old tropes that we work so hard to fight every single day.”
Greenblatt also stood by the value of organizing ad boycotts against social media platforms, a tactic the group and other civil rights organizations used against Facebook in 2020. He said the ADL would address whatever lawsuit comes, if one does, and added that Musk’s claims were spurious.
“Blaming the Jews is a tried-and-true tactic throughout the ages,” he said. “Suggesting that the ADL, a nonprofit organization, can somehow engineer things and somehow we have more sway than the wealthiest man in the world running one of the most powerful media platforms on the planet, that has an extraordinary degree of resources at its disposal … I don’t believe it.”
With additional reporting by Asaf Elia-Shalev.