Discover more from Just the Facts with Gerald Posner
Denying October 7
The start of a Holocaust denial-like movement
Largely lost in the deluge of ongoing media coverage of the war in Gaza is the genesis of a denial movement about the October 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel. The denialism ranges from those who merely downplay the day’s death toll or barbarism to conspiracies that put the blame on Israelis.
It is tempting to dismiss October 7 denialism as the province of a few fringe groups. For nearly forty years, I have studied and written about Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories. I initially thought it possible that October 7 might be different. The Hamas terrorists used Go Pro cameras and their victims’ cellphones to film rape, torture, mutilation, and murder. Those stomach wrenching videos were uploaded to the victims’ Facebook accounts and their family WhatsApp groups, as well as to Hamas’s social-media. There was no directive to keep things secret, as was the Nazi order for those who carried out the Final Solution. The perpetrators celebrated the atrocities of October 7.
“No Evidence of this Whatsoever”
It took only a few days before the worrisome early elements of October 7 denial appeared in a flood of online videos flatly rejecting what had happened. Typical was one titled, “3 Lies Currently Being Told About Palestine.”
Were babies beheaded?
“This is completely false. No evidence has been provided for this.”
Were women raped?
“Also false. There is no evidence of this whatsoever.”
And what about the claim that 250 people were killed at a concert?
“False. The only videos we have seen are of people running away from the concert.”
Instagram and Facebook removed that video and many similar ones. It is still, however, on X, formerly Twitter. In fact, a lot of fake and troubling denial posts have found a safe home on X and Tik Tok, as well as encrypted messaging apps, Telegram and Signal.
The denial movement over the Nazi murder of six million Jews in World War II took years to develop. There was no social media avalanche of deceptive information capable of persuading people to reject incontrovertible facts. It took decades before Holocaust denial was recast from a straightforward refusal to accept the genocide of Jews to a pseudo-scientific revisionism that used complex calculations, flashy graphics, and chemical analyses, to challenge the number of Jews killed at Auschwitz.
“No one was gassed there [Auschwitz],” revisionist British historian, David Irving, told me in 2000, while he was in the middle of a libel trial he later lost against American scholar, Deborah Lipstadt. “It’s all false.”
In comparison to the slow pace of Holocaust revisionism, October 7 denialism is moving at warp speed. It follows a pattern familiar to 9/11 Truthers, Sandy Hook, even the latest JFK assassination theories, a few threads of misinformation go viral. Distortions and falsehoods are mixed into an ever-changing narrative that serves as the false foundation from which a denial virus metastasizes.
Photos of the Israeli victims are disparaged as AI deep fakes. Explicit accounts of the brutality provided by captured Hamas terrorists are dismissed as coerced confessions. Holocaust deniers do the same to sidestep the damning confession and testimony of Auschwitz’s commandant, who estimated that 2.5 million Jews were murdered in the camp’s gas chambers.
Other instigators in the far-flung October 7 denial movement use selective snippets of real information to create elaborate, distorted narratives that persuade susceptible people to embrace an alternate reality. That worked to a smaller degree on 9/11 when conspiracy theorists advanced technical arguments purporting to demonstrate that the World Trade Center towers were felled by a carefully planned explosive implosion, not from the fires that resulted after two jumbo planes packed with jet fuel flew into them.
Assaf David, a political scientist at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and the Forum for Regional Thinking, told me it is not surprising that some people are primed to look for a conspiratorial way of explaining away the Hamas atrocities.
“When something so horrific and despicable as October 7th happens, they shun away all information and come up with all sorts of rationalizations, it didn't happen, or not as reported, or they didn't mean it.” Many Palestinians, he says, find it difficult to go overnight from feeling like a victim to being branded as the victimizer. They are especially receptive to anything that might remotely explain away what happened.
Shifting the Blame to Israel
One of the loudest voices in the incipient October 7 denial movement is Max Blumenthal, the editor-in-chief of a fringe leftwing website, The Grayzone. He has in the past been criticized for his pro-Russian and anti-Israel propaganda. The son of former Bill Clinton aide, Sidney Blumenthal, his “investigation” of October 7 is presented in a six and half minute video that is a classic of revisionist methodology.
It utilizes fast editing, truncated sound bites, and a cascade of misleading or false statements presented at a machine gun pace. Viewers barely can process what is said before the next idea flashes onscreen.
One IDF solider, for example, points to where he and his unit found 15 children killed by three Hamas grenades. The video narrator claims that could never have happened since Hamas was “armed only with machine guns and small grenade launchers.” He omits any mention of eyewitness accounts and videos of terrorists repeatedly tossing grenades into shelters.
In another clip, an IDF colonel talks about eight burned babies discovered in the corner of a kibbutz house. As for accounts of burned babies, some of them beheaded, the narrator says it “is all a lie and I am going to prove it to you using Israeli media.” He points to the badly damaged exterior walls of a kibbutz house and launches into a theory worthy of a “jet fuel can’t melt steel” 9/11 truther. “Fire burns wood,” he says, it does “not collapse a concrete structure.” That is all he needs to launch into a series of unsupported accusations, each designed to create some doubt about what might have happened. Did the arriving security forces fire on those running to safety, mistaking them for Hamas? Could helicopter gunships have fired rockets into cars with hostages in them?
“Do we absolve Hamas of their actions on October 7,” he asks. “Of course not. None of this would have happened had they not attacked. Whether or not they have the right to resist occupation and apartheid with force is the topic for another video.” The purpose of this video, he says, is to show how the IDF response to the attack “led to the death of their own people.”
“Israelis believe, deep down to their core, that their babies were beheaded, that their women were raped and tortured before being killed. And this simply isn’t true.”
He ends with “share this video and help spread the facts. The world deserves to know the truth, and without you, that’ll never happen.”
That video got millions of views on Instagram and YouTube before both platforms removed it. It is still on Twitter, with more than seven million views.
Blumenthal’s speculation about Israelis killing Israelis becomes a “fact” with other denialists who contend that Hamas was focused only on military objectives, not civilians.
One claim is that when Hamas ran into police and IDF at roadblocks on their way to attack army bases, hundreds of partiers from the all-night rave got caught in the crossfire. A now deleted viral video charged that shelling from Israeli tanks caused all the deaths at Israel’s ground zero, Kibbutz Be’eri. As with many conspiracy theories, there is a fragment of truth mixed with lies. A single survivor from Kibbutz Be’eri, herself used as a human shield, told a radio interviewer that she thought it possible that five or six of the forty Israelis with whom she had sheltered when the attack began, were killed when Hamas used then as human shields. The ensuing three-hour gun battle between the security forces and Hamas was, she said, “very intense.”
Her account of possible friendly-fire casualties from Hamas’s wanton use of hostages as human shields becomes a linchpin of “proof” for much grander claims at popular websites such as The Electronic Intifada. One of its headlines is “Israeli forces shot their own civilians, kibbutz survivor says.” A variation is, “Shoot at everything: How Israeli pilots killed their own civilians.”
Israel has tried countering the embryonic denial movement with a 43-minute, gruesome compilation of raw footage documenting Hamas’s savagery. Much of the video, called “Bearing Witness,” came from the terrorists’ bodycams. It has been shown selectively to journalists, political leaders from Europe and the U.S., and even made its way to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
Malina Saval, a Variety features editor wrote about it for Los Angeles magazine: “Witnessing the footage was like watching a pod of sub-human zombies without blood running through their veins.”
Could that film settle definitively the question of what happened on October 7?
Iman Khatib-Yassin, the first hijab-wearing woman elected to the Knesset in 2020, caused a furor in Israel after its release. She claimed that Hamas “didn’t slaughter babies and they didn’t rape women, at least not in the footage. . . .” Her comments went viral on social media and became the Arab street’s response to “Bearing Witness.” It did not matter that Khatib-Yassin later admitted she had not seen the film. After her own Islamist party asked her to resign, she backpedaled, “I made a mistake, I am sorry and apologize.”
From all I have learned from studying conspiracy theories, the October 7 denial movement will grow. Stopping it on social media is like a losing game of whack-a-mole. No sooner is a video removed or a denier de-platformed, it reappears quickly on a different outlet and under a new identity.
October 7 denial is a problem that will live long past the resolution of the ongoing war and the fate of more than 200 hostages. It will thrive the more it is ignored as a meritless reaction of lunacy. The promoters are not crazy, they are clever and devious. They ascribe to Nazi propagandist chief, Joseph Goebbels, who said that if a big lie is told often enough, people will eventually start to believe it. October 7 denial, as with Holocaust denial, is a cancerous lie that distorts history and once again victimizes the families of the dead.