Earlier this week, a handful of other journalists and I sat down with a senior Israeli official to hear his insights into the military campaign against Hamas in Gaza. Before we began, his staff directed our attention to a large television opposite the conference table and pressed ‘play.’ It took me a few moments to realize that we were being shown a condensed version of the infamous 43-minute video of Hamas’s atrocities on October 7 – a video I had studiously avoided seeing, even as some of my more intrepid colleagues subjected themselves to the horrors it depicts in a series of screenings for the press.As I watched the raw footage – much of it captured by the perpetrators themselves using bodycams, GoPro devices, and their own mobile phones – I could feel my pulse quicken and my mouth turn dry. I saw headless bodies strewn on the ground, small children sprawled unnaturally in pools of blood, a head shrunken and blackened by fire. I found myself torn between the knowledge that what I was watching had taken place just a couple of weeks prior, roughly an hour’s drive from where we were, and the powerful sense that I had seen it all before, in grainy black-and-white footage from a dark time, far away.It is difficult to describe the maelstrom of emotion in which Israelis and Jews around the world have found themselves since October 7. The shock, horror, grief, and fear produced by the massacre and its aftermath have intermingled with glimmers of hope, pride, and steely determination, as embodied by our collective response.But as we have witnessed the reactions of those around us, those removed from the events on the ground, many of us have experienced an unusual feeling: disbelief.Yes, we know that some people hate us. We knew that events in Israel are often exploited by antisemites as a pretext for attacks on Jews and on the Jewish state. But the ferocity of the loathing, and the swiftness and openness with which it has been expressed, have taken many Jews aback – as have concurrent efforts to alternately celebrate, deny, and erase our suffering.In the weeks since October 7, a new phenomenon has swept through the streets of major cities around the world: posters bearing the faces of the 240 Israelis held hostage by Hamas in Gaza have been plastered by Jews and their allies on walls, lampposts, and bulletin boards, only to be torn down by an assortment of bigots from a variety of backgrounds.Social media platforms have been flooded with videos of confrontations between the vandals and those who have caught them in the act. A blond student at the University of Southern California can be seen giggling as she carefully removes the hostage posters from a campus bulletin board. A woman in Paris says, “It’s all propaganda.” A man with oversized headphones walking away with a wad of crumpled posters explains that they are “perpetuating the narrative of the victimization of the Israelis, which is completely false.” A young woman in a green Nike hoodie peeling posters off a New York City wall simply says, “They’re fake.” At the same time, activists have been claiming that photos of the blackened bodies of Israeli babies were generated by artificial intelligence and that the events of October 7 were staged. Attendees at a Los Angeles screening of the full 43-minute video of the Hamas atrocities were physically assaulted by protesters; activists had tried to dissuade invitees from attending the event, calling the footage “propaganda.”The irony, of course, is that it is Hamas that has made a point of documenting and broadcasting its savagery. The number of videos from that day is staggering; TikTok, Telegram, and other platforms have been awash with graphic depictions of the carnage. A Hamas “abduction manual” recovered following the massacre instructed the perpetrators to livestream their actions. “Do not waste the camera battery and storage but use them as much as possible,” the manual read. In at least one case, the terrorists used an elderly woman’s phone to upload a video of her murder to her Facebook profile, which was how her family learned of her death.What is happening here?Professor Israel Charny is one of the world’s foremost Holocaust and genocide scholars. He is also a prominent psychologist and has written extensively about the psychology of Holocaust and genocide denial.In a 2001 article published in the academic journal IDEA, Charny described the motives that drive those who deny genocides and other atrocities.“Denials of known events of genocide must be treated as acts of bitter and malevolent psychological aggression, certainly against the victims, but really against all of human society, for such denials literally celebrate genocidal violence and in the process suggestively call for renewed massacres – of the same people or of others,” he wrote.“Such denials also madden, insult, and humiliate the survivors, the relatives of the dead, and the entire people of the victims, and are, without doubt, continuing manifestations of the kinds of dehumanization and disentitlement that we know are the basic psychological substrates that make genocide possible, to begin with,” he noted.While comparisons between the events of October 7 and the Holocaust are largely off-base – “Jewish blood now has a price,” said the senior official with whom I met this week, referring to the ongoing military operation targeting Hamas in Gaza – efforts to deny them are strikingly similar. Like Holocaust denial, the minimization, erasure, and denial of Hamas’s atrocities target both the dead and the living, seeking to perpetuate their pain with breathtaking cruelty.They are, as Charny says, acts of utter dehumanization.
No such thing as an innocent Jew
Those who tear down posters bearing the faces of 10-month-old Kfir Bibas or 84-year-old Ditza Heiman, 13-year-old Alma Or or 59-year-old Michel Nisenbaum cannot countenance the notion that Jews can be victims – or that others might see them as such. To them, Jews are invariably evil, always the aggressors. There is no such thing as an innocent Jew. “Perpetuating the narrative of the victimization of the Israelis,” as the bigot cited above said, cannot stand – and facts be damned.The response to these acts of malicious vandalism should be obvious. We should plaster our abducted loved ones’ faces everywhere. We should make them impossible to avoid. We should project them on buildings, print them in newspapers, broadcast them on television, and post them online. Every poster that is torn down should be replaced with ten.Our message is simple: These people are real. They are innocent. They are being held against their will. And they need to be brought home now.