The tech billionaire’s apologetic tour of Auschwitz after an offensive tweet is a massive moral failure
The world’s richest man has visited one of the world’s darkest places. Elon Musk has gone to Auschwitz – to be precise, to the museum that preserves the memory of the Nazi camp in that location.
A whole complex of camps – which combined mass murder with brutal slave-labor – Auschwitz played a key role in the Holocaust, the genocide of Jews committed by Germany (with some help from others) between 1933 and 1945.
The background of Musk’s visit is simple: Last year, the tech billionaire got himself into serious – and well-deserved – trouble by retweeting and endorsing an anti-Semitic tweet on X, the powerful social media platform (formerly known as Twitter) that he took over in 2022. Since then, he has been on what the New York Times gloatingly calls his “rehabilitation” (as in criminal) and “penitence” (as in sinner) tour.
He has called his own nasty tweet “literally the worst and dumbest post I’ve ever done.” He has gone to Israel and de facto helped its government in its propaganda effort to “justify” its ongoing genocidal attack on the Palestinians. And now he has visited Auschwitz in an attempt to signal that he understands the gravity of anti-Semitism and what it led to, namely, a genocide. Contradictory? Indeed. We will get back to that.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Let’s not simply assume that Musk is nothing but a deliberate and complete opportunist, doing anything he calculates he has to do in order to mitigate the consequences of his endorsement of an antisemitic message. Let’s instead give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that, like most of us, he is acting out of both base and sincere (not the same as ethically correct!) motives. While (again like most of us) rationalizing away his more sordid motivations and idealizing himself as simply “true to himself” (as he has tweeted).
Once we see him as ordinary in that sense, then, clearly – and without any undue tech-hero worship or billionaire vilification – this is an important moment: Because it is not so much about Musk personally (although he gets no free pass on his great personal failure). Instead, it is about a pathological but also morally reprehensible blindness in much of the societies that make up, to use two shorthands, the “West” or the “Global North,” and especially among their elites.
For Musk could easily have shown a true and genuinely compassionate understanding of what the lessons of the Holocaust are. Imagine the richest man in the world, who also has a lot of cultural (in the wider and more important sense of that word) and political influence, going to Auschwitz and saying one simple and (moderately) courageous thing: “The lesson of the Holocaust is indeed ‘never again’. And that never, actually, means never: never and to no one and by no one. Hence, the best – and, really, the only – way to honor the memory of the victims of the German genocide of the Jews is to now stand with the victims of the Israeli genocide of the Palestinians.”
But Musk, probably very predictably, did no such thing. Instead, he took along the well-known right-wing talking head Ben Shapiro, who has recently spent much of his usual venom on running interference for Israel’s great crime. Once again, I cannot help but agree with Jackson Hinkel. His conclusion was spot-on: The visit to Auschwitz – a site to remember a horrific genocide in the past – was perversely instrumentalized to make us forget a genocide in our own time.
How did this happen? And how did Musk end up in such a low farce?
Regarding his initial anti-Semitic tweet, Musk is now pleading ignorance. Or, in his own words, he has come to feel that he used to be “naïve” about the extent of anti-Semitism. That is, on the face of it, a commendably frank admission. It’s shameful for a man of his age (and means) to choose to be so ill-informed for so long. Maybe there’s some merit in being open about it now.
Yet, in reality, his admission also betrays that he is not honest enough to face the root of his own moral failure: If he used to be “naïve” about how much anti-Semitism there is, then he should avoid being (or appearing?) even more naïve now.
But he is. Musk, in his obsessive crusade against “wokeness” sometimes invokes George Orwell, whom – I suspect – he has never read, like most libertarians and other right-wingers who misunderstand that complicated socialist as their guru. Orwell would have kicked Musk’s behind, very hard. Because Musk is right about one thing: He hated lying. Yet, here is Musk lending his considerable influence to three big lies:
First, that criticizing Israel is the same as anti-Semitism. That is a blatant untruth, repeated ad nauseam around his visit to Auschwitz. And he himself has endorsed it explicitly by joining the chorus of those who smear US students – from whose guts and sense of right and wrong Musk could learn – who come out to resist Israel’s apartheid and genocide, as simply “supporting Hamas” and “sponsoring hate.”
The second big lie Musk is now helping to spread is that the opposite of anti-Semitism is relentless support for an Israeli state that is run by a far-right government that systematically and massively abuses millions of Palestinians – including by killing tens of thousands of their civilians – and openly defies basic morality and international law. In reality, the opposite of anti-Semitism is, of course, to resist and reject all forms of murderous stereotyping. Always, everywhere, and against everyone. You never side with the stereotypers and the perpetrators. No, not even those who claim to represent former victims. (And, by the way, it doesn’t matter if you feel “aspirationally Jewish,” as Musk now tells us he does. There are many Jews – real ones, not the “aspirational” type, freshly fine-tuned by Ben Shapiro – who are opposed to Israel’s crimes, too.)
And the third big lie Musk is supporting now is that the memory of the Holocaust is the property of Zionists to do with as they please. And what they want is always the same: Namely, use it to shut down any resistance to their own agenda.
Again, let’s assume that Musk genuinely aspires to be more than a humdrum conformist adjusting to pressure. After all, he prides himself on knowing his own mind, doing his own thing, and pursuing the truth. Let’s take these claims seriously, not because they reflect much reality but because he shares them with many others in the West (even if they are less blunt about their self-adulation). How does such a personality reconcile this flattering self-image with such obvious intellectual inconsistency and moral failure?
By not perceiving the equal humanity of others. There are, for Musk, clearly, always those who matter and those who don’t. Recall, for instance, that the anti-Semitic tweet he endorsed was also a mean, racist complaint about migrants, who were caricatured as nothing but a tool to demographically “attack” “white” societies. Yet Musk is now on his “penitence tour” to show contrition to Jews (as he should, just not the way he does), but not to migrants. See a pattern?
Recall also that one reason Musk has given for his former underestimating of the virulence of anti-Semitism is that so many of his friends are Jews (so that anti-Semitism does not appear much among them, he says). I doubt, Musk has – or cares to make – many Palestinian friends. And the Palestinian victims in Gaza (and elsewhere) simply do not matter enough for him to be worth mentioning in Auschwitz, which is precisely where they must be mentioned, because Auschwitz is not “only” about the Holocaust but about all genocides as well.
Palestinian victims also have not mattered enough to Musk to utter one word of regret for his much worse than misguided photo-ops and sit-downs with the Israeli perpetrators while their genocide was already on its way. Musk can – as he is now showing – be (or pretend to be?) humble. But, it seems, only when under pressure from those he fears, not from his own conscience.
The ultimate tragedy (if that is the word) of Elon Musk – and so many like him – is that he is far less special or individualist than he believes. His lazy lack of attention to – and empathy for – those who do not have the power to bother and push him is the sign of a deeply ordinary personality responding to very ordinary stimuli. One day he may realize that “being true to oneself” is a primitive, petty motto worthy only of an immature narcissist. (Shakespeare hinted at that fact by making an idiot say it.) If Musk could learn to, instead, be true to his conscience and to what other humans justly deserve, all other humans – now that would be the beginning of progress. The richest man in the world surely has the means for some genuine self-improvement. The good news: It’s all still ahead of him. Less Netanyahu, more, say, Ali Abunimah and Norman Finkelstein; less Shapiro, much more Kant would be my prescription.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.