Elon Musk plans to sue the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish non-profit fighting the spread of bigotry and anti-Semitism, for defaming the reputation of Twitter publicly.
A self-proclaimed advocate of free speech, Musk sparked his latest controversy after endorsing the post of far-right Irish activist Keith O’Brien, who goes by the alias Keith Woods, calling for the ADL to be banned.
“Since the acquisition, the ADL has been trying to kill this platform by falsely accusing it and me of being anti-Semitic,” Musk claimed, saying he would clear Twitter’s name (now rebranded to X) by launching a defamation lawsuit against the organization.
Elon Musk likes my call to #BanTheADL
The people have spoken, we want free speech! pic.twitter.com/mM8ukjWEC8
— Keith Woods (@KeithWoodsYT) September 1, 2023
Instead Musk shifted the blame for his company’s financial problems from his own decisions—saddling Twitter with $13 billion in high-interest debt and gutting content moderation teams that kept advertisers happy—but squarely on the shoulders of the ADL.
“They would potentially be on the hook for destroying half the value of the company, so roughly $22 billion,” Musk wrote.
Later he clarified it was at the minimum directly responsible for $4 billion in damages—a figure that if ever awarded by a court would bankrupt a non-profit.
One long-time ADL supporter is Jewish comedian Sascha Baron Cohen, most famous for portraying fictional journalist Borat Sagdiyev, who is also a passionate critic of companies like Twitter and Facebook.
“Social media platforms deliberately amplify content that triggers outrage and fear, including fear of the other,” he warned during the March on Washington on Aug. 26. Intolerant bigots, Cohen claimed, have “gone from klan rallies to chat rooms, from marches to message boards.”
Musk exploits growing partisan divide
By comparison, Musk said it was not his platform that spread anti-Jewish hatred on Twitter, but Greenblatt’s organization.
“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!” he posted.
The fact that @Meta waited for the Oversight Board to take the case before enforcing their own policies tells you everything you need to know about the company’s priorities. Holocaust denial and distortion is antisemitism and has no place on social media platforms — full stop. https://t.co/4rUOigoK6q
— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) August 31, 2023
Since the controversy erupted, Musk has received backing from some Jewish Twitter users who distanced themselves from the ADL and said it does not speak on their behalf. But even some prominent Jewish Republicans including party donor Adam Milstein voiced their displeasure at Musk for “blaming Jews for anti-Semitism”.
On Monday, Musk nevertheless attempted to exploit the growing political divide in the American Jewish community to marshal further support. He linked to a 2020 article in conservative publication Tablet that claimed the ADL was blatantly partisan and attacked Greenblatt personally.
“A soulless and cynical political operative is one thing; a supine and ineffectual one is another,” the Tablet article said at the time, blasting his “decision to choose faddish politics over the less glittering work of keeping Jews safe”.
This isn’t the first time Musk has been forced to defend himself over claims he is furthering anti-Semitism and hate speech more broadly. In May he wrote that George Soros, a prominent donor to the Democratic party, “hates humanity” after the wealthy Jewish financier liquidated his entire Tesla shareholding.
Musk also likened the native Hungarian to fictional supervillain Magneto, in the comic books a survivor of the holocaust like Soros was in real life. The Tesla CEO, however, notably received support from Israel’s controversial diaspora minister, a member of the country’s most right-wing government in recent memory.
One prominent Israeli LGBTQ advocate for Jews and political Zionism implored Musk to be more responsible and heed the potential repercussions of his decisions given the tycoon’s enormous reach and influence as a social media star in his own right.
“You have freedom of speech, but we don’t have freedom from the violence your words and actions incite,” wrote Hen Mazzig to Musk on the latter’s platform on Monday.
X and the ADL did not immediately respond to Fortune‘s requests for comment.