On its face, Holocaust denial makes no sense. The physical evidence of the genocide exists. The testimony of survivors and of Nazis and their collaborators exists. And they are all irrefutable.
Beyond that, the Nazis were proud of the fact that they killed 6 million Jews. By denying the Holocaust, contemporary Nazis and Nazi fans seem to be demeaning their heroes. Why would they do that?
The mystery of Holocaust denial is no mere puzzlement from a distant past. Understanding its purpose is essential as we contend with our present predicament. Immediately after word got out about Hamas’s sadistic slaughter of more than 1,400 Israeli men, women and children on Oct. 7, Hamas’s supporters worldwide launched a concerted effort to deny that anything had happened.
Just as neo-Nazis both celebrate the Holocaust and deny it, so do those who rapturously greeted the stories of slaughtered and decapitated Jewish babies and men, and raped and dismembered Jewish women and girls, insist that Hamas didn’t commit any of those crimes.
A notable aspect of the atrocities is that Hamas’s mass murderers didn’t try to hide them. Instead, they broadcast them worldwide as they carried them out. Armed with Go Pro cameras and the cellphones of their victims, the Palestinian terrorists in southern Israel filmed the rape, dismemberment, torture and execution of their victims on their victims’ own phones, posting them in their victims’ family WhatsApp groups and Facebook pages as they carried them out. They did the same with their own social-media platforms. No one needed researchers to comb through Hamas archives. The directions for the slaughter were found in documents that the terrorists carried with them into Israel.
So why are supporters of Hamas tearing down posters of kidnapped Israeli children, women and men being held hostage in the Gaza Strip? They celebrate the hostage-taking on their social-media postings. Why are they insisting to their fellow students on campuses or subway riders in New York and Johannesburg that there are no hostages in Gaza, and this is all a Zionist conspiracy? A gas-lighting?
To understand what is happening and what it represents, we need to look at the most popular and powerful form of Holocaust denial today. As Izabella Tabarovsky meticulously demonstrated in a Tablet magazine article last January, this form of Holocaust denial was coined by the Soviets. It was popularized by a Palestinian terrorist of some repute: Palestinian Authority chairman and Palestinian Liberation Organization chief Mahmoud Abbas.
In 1982, Abbas wrote a doctoral dissertation at the KGB’s Institute of Oriental Studies, which he later turned into a bestselling book. His thesis, titled “The Relationship Between Zionists and Nazis, 1933-1945,” is the basis for Holocaust education in Palestinian schools.
Abbas claimed that the Zionists were Nazis. He insisted that just as the Nazis defined themselves as Aryan racial supremacists, the Zionists defined themselves as Jewish racial supremacists. Abbas claimed that the Holocaust was a collaborative effort between the Nazis and the Zionist leadership in the land of Israel. David Ben-Gurion, he wrote, had agents in Europe who collaborated with the Nazis. Their goal, Abbas said, was to support the genocide of European Jewry in order to win international sympathy for the Zionist effort to establish a Jewish supremacist state in the land of Israel, aka “Palestine.”
As Tabarovsky explained, the allure of Abbas’s claims for Palestinian Jew-haters and Soviets alike is clear. First, it enables them to avoid accounting for the role they played in the murder of 6 million Jews. It was the Palestinian Arab leader Haj Amin al-Husseini—not Ben-Gurion or any other Jew, Zionist or not—who collaborated with Hitler to annihilate the Jews in Europe and throughout the world. And it was the Soviet Union,—not the Zionist leadership—that signed a non-aggression pact with the Nazis. By insisting that it was the Jews who collaborated with their own destruction, both the Soviets and the Palestinians were able to project their own culpability onto their enemy: the Jews. They were also able to deny the Jews moral legitimacy as victims.
After all, if the Jews did it to themselves, then no one else had anything to own up to. And more importantly, the Jews’ alleged venality meant that the Nazis were right. The Jews are evil and deserve to be wiped off the map.
Sifting through the ashes
The same malevolent, genocide-supportive rationale guides Hamas’s supporters worldwide today.
Over the past several days, more and more information has come out about how the victims of Hamas’s atrocities were murdered and tortured with a sadism that was inconceivable until Oct. 7. And as that information is disseminated, Hamas supporters’ efforts to demonize those disseminating the information have expanded exponentially.
Consider just one example. Over the weekend, Eli Beer, the head of United Hatzalah rescue organization, told an American Jewish audience the story of a baby from Kfar Aza. The baby, he said, was placed in an oven and burned alive. It was later reported that the baby’s father was shot and left to bleed to death as his wife was gang-raped and executed, and his baby burned alive.
I posted the story on my X-platform (formerly Twitter) account. Within hours, the post went viral. By Wednesday morning, it had been viewed by more than 2.5 million people. Thousands had reposted, and thousands more had responded.
By Monday afternoon, I realized that most of the reposts and comments were supportive of Hamas. Many made jokes about the atrocity. But most of the posts were sheer denials that the crime even took place. Posters demonized me as a “Zionist Nazi” who propagates lies. Some pro-Hamas posters created memes declaring me a liar.
Once I understood what was happening, I asked multiple people for confirmations, which I received directly and indirectly from the Israel Defense Forces, the Israeli government, the American government, ZAKA (the body retrieval society, and in this case, body parts) and other sources. I also learned that the case that Beer revealed was not a lone event. Several bodies of babies were found with grill marks, indicating they had been burned alive in ovens.
Professor Chen Kugel, head of the Israel National Institute of Forensic Medicine, oversees the process of identifying the bodies of the victims. In media appearances since Oct. 7, Kugel has repeatedly described the corpses of victims who were burned alive. They can be distinguished from victims whose bodies were burned after they were executed by the presence of soot in their lungs. The soot indicates that they were breathing while they were burning.
The process of identifying the victims is protracted because Hamas directed its murderers to burn the bodies of their victims. Kugel and others have described the remains of many of the bodies as what can be seen from a crematorium. Avigail Gimpel, a volunteer at the Jewish burial society Chevra Kadisha who prepared dozens of victims’ bodies for burial, shared that several of the bodies she and her colleagues received were balls of charcoal. Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority have been brought in to sift through the ashes of burned-out homes to separate the human remains from burned furniture and walls.
Despite the mounting forensic and testimonial evidence, the denials continue and expand. When seen in the context of Palestinian Holocaust denial, they can be understood to serve three related goals.
First, the denials enable people who are accustomed to supporting the Palestinians, but who like to be seen as truthful, to feel comfortable casting doubt on the truth. For example, Eric Levitz, a progressive writer for New York magazine published the following on X on Oct. 22:
“Last night I asserted that this report [related to the slaughter of October 7] indicated that babies were beheaded. This was an overstatement. I should have said that the report established that babies were found headless, a fact that lends plausibility to claims of beheading, but which does not prove them.”
This week, the Yale Daily News published a similarly depraved correction of an opinion column that related to the fact that Hamas terrorists beheaded and raped their victims. The Yale student paper insisted the allegations had not been substantiated.
The second purpose of Hamas supporters’ denial is to criminalize Israel. If Hamas isn’t guilty, then obviously Israel is. Abbas accused the Jews of responsibility for the Holocaust in order to reject the moral legitimacy of the State of Israel. He did it as well to avoid contending with Palestinian culpability for the genocide despite Husseini’s role in blocking Jewish emigration to pre-state Israel and his direct role in carrying out the Holocaust. Just so, Hamas supporters are now accusing Israel of killing its own people or fabricating their victimization at the hands of the terrorist organization in order to build a case that Israel is the villain of this story. This enables Jew-haters worldwide to feel comfortable expressing their own loathing of the Jews. If the Jews are the villains, then it is moral to hate them. It is moral to stand with Hamas. And it is immoral to support the Jews and the State of Israel.
Finally, once truth is cast into doubt and Israel is castigated as the villain, the denials of Hamas’s crimes facilitate the continuation and expansion of those crimes. Hamas’s declared goal, like Abbas’s Fatah Party, is the elimination of the Jewish state. That is, its goal is to enact another Holocaust. With Israel castigated as a liar and the villain, the next step is to wipe it out.
To Jews and their supporters, Hamas apologists now terrorizing Jews on college campuses and in cities throughout the United States and Europe, and running rampant on social-media platforms seem crazy. How can they deny the undeniable fact of Hamas culpability?
But Hamas’s boosters are not delusional. They know exactly what they are doing.
They are waging a psychological war against Western governments and publics. Their purpose is to gaslight hundreds of millions of people, to cause them to question their own grip on reality and intimidate them into silence. At the same time, they seek to embolden their allies and fellow travelers to stand openly with Hamas by showing they have nothing to lose from doing so.
If they are successful, their efforts will produce an international climate conducive to the achievement of their common goal of eradicating the Jewish people and the Jewish state. If they are partially successful, Israel’s war effort will be undermined, and assaults on Jews worldwide will increase.