In one of his usual sweeping declarations about a policy change to X, formerly Twitter, Elon Musk on Friday declared that the terms “decolonization” and “from the river to the sea” are euphemisms that “necessarily imply genocide,” the use of which on the platform could “result in suspension.”
Both phrases are commonly used by activists calling for a Free Palestine, meaning an end to occupation and freedom of Palestinians between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. But they are interpreted by Israel supporters, Jewish advocacy groups and many others as antisemitic, eliminationist rhetoric describing the destruction of the Jewish state and its people. The militant group Hamas, which launched a deadly attack Israel on Oct. 7, years ago adopted “from the river to the sea” as a slogan of war, whereas Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian-American in U.S. Congress, was formally censured by the House this month in part for her embrace of the rallying cry, which she described as “an aspirational call for freedom, human rights and peaceful coexistence.”
Musk, who has in the past described himself as a “free speech absolutist” and claimed to be running X according to that principle, took the position that the hotly disputed terms are clear hate speech meant to incite “extreme violence.” He followed up that post with a tweet reading, “At risk of stating the obvious, anyone advocating the genocide of *any* group will be suspended from this platform.”
In fact, not only has X utterly failed to remove genocidal rhetoric during the Israel-Hamas war, but Musk has personally contributed to a surge of antisemitic content. After his Thursday endorsement of a user’s conspiracy theory that Jews are “pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them,” the White House condemned his “abhorrent promotion of Antisemitic and racist hate in the strongest terms” on Friday. That incident — and ongoing reports that their sponsored content has routinely been displayed next to Nazi and white nationalist material on X — prompted major advertisers including Apple, Disney, Lionsgate and IBM to cut ties with the platform.
And while Musk has falsely blamed the Jewish nonprofit the Anti-Defamation League for an ongoing exodus of advertisers that has left X in dire financial straits, the organization has proved more amenable to his chaotic management style than others, resuming their ad spending on X in October following that feud. His new stance against “decolonization” and “from the river to the sea,” as with X CEO Linda Yaccarino’s lip service on Thursday as to how the platform is making every effort to combat antisemitism, could be an attempt to mitigate the latest fallout from his dabbling in far-right conspiracies about Jewish people.
In any event, it’s doubtful that users will be purged from the site for repeating either phrase. In June, Musk sparked outrage after proclaiming that the words “cis” and “cisgender” would thenceforth be “considered slurs on this platform,” likewise punishable by suspension. There is no evidence that such a guideline has ever been enforced, and attempts to do so would probably be hindered by Musk’s decision to gut moderation teams at every level.
Indeed, it’s hard to see how X can regain control of the conversation as the app falls into an accelerating tailspin, afire with raging antisemitism and Islamophobia. Like so much of what Musk tweets, the plan to crack down on a couple of slogans appears to be self-serving in the short term that will prove an empty promise in the end.