Horror film

Maccabee Task Force looks to screen Oct. 7 footage at several campuses in coming weeks, more later

Organization’s director says showing the grim footage is meant to combat attempts to deny the atrocities; ‘as ugly as it is, I'm afraid that ugliness is now part of our reality’

Maccabee Task Force is working to screen the raw footage of Hamas’ atrocities at a small number of universities in the coming weeks and more schools later on, in an effort to combat attempts to deny or minimize the Oct. 7 massacres, its director, David Brog, told eJewishPhilanthropy.

“We decided that it’s something we needed to do,” Brog said. “Of course, we wouldn’t force anyone to screen it. We wouldn’t force anyone to attend. Everyone has to make up their own minds. But I think the truth of these atrocities has to be shared in the face of so many lies about what happened.”

On Monday, Harvard became the first university to host a screening of the footage, which was open to students, faculty, administrative employees and community members affiliated with the university. That screening was organized by Harvard Chabad at the urging of Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan and Bill Ackman, a billionaire investor and Harvard alumnus who has been critical of the school’s response to antisemitism on campus. At the screening, a spokesperson for Erdan said his office was working to organize similar events at other Ivy League schools.

Brog said his organization, which works to combat boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts on college campuses, has reached out to the 75 universities where it operates to see which would be interested in holding a screening.

While MTF is trying to facilitate the events, the ultimate decision of where the video will be shown is up to the Israeli Embassy or a nearby consulate, which provides the video. In order to ensure that the raw, graphic footage is not widely distributed, the digital file is brought in on a physical drive, and attendees are required to forfeit their phones and any other device that can record images or audio.

“We’re in the early stages. So we have a bunch of campuses, in the 8-10 range, that have said that this is something that they’re going to try to host in the next few months or so,” Ben Sweetwood, MTF’s national field director, told eJP. 

“And then we have a couple campuses that are very serious about moving forward soon… within the next month,” he said.

Brog said that he expects that “once they see that it was successful on a small number of campuses… others will line up pretty quickly.”

As the screenings have yet to be fully approved, Sweetwood and Brog would not say which universities had expressed an interest.

The compilation, which runs roughly 45 minutes, is made up of videos collected from GoPro cameras used by the Hamas terrorists as they committed heinous acts of violence, as well as from cellphones, dashboard cameras, law enforcement officers and first responders and CCTV.

The footage is exceedingly graphic and chilling, featuring scenes of murder and mutilation as the perpetrators laugh and banter. The disturbing nature of the video has driven some attendees — including lawmakers on Capitol Hill — to leave screenings midway and others to openly weep throughout.

Brog said that despite the emotional and psychic toll that viewing the footage takes, his organization believed it was critical to screen the video in order to combat efforts to deny the atrocities. He compared it to the decision by then-Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe Dwight Eisenhower ordering U.S. soldiers and German civilians to see Nazi death camps at the end of World War II.

“Eisenhower made the decision to make sure the soldiers saw the death camps. The soldiers were the same age [as these students] to witness a very difficult thing in life, to witness that evil exists and to internalize it,” Brog said. “So as ugly as it is, I’m afraid that ugliness is now part of our reality.”

Brog said this was particularly needed in light of the large number of students who consume news by following the social media accounts of fellow students.

“Not everyone is as well-read as I would have hoped. Not everyone is aware of the attacks as I would have hoped,” he said. “If we want to win over campuses, we need to make allies beyond the pro-Israel community and make sure that those allies are as well-equipped as possible to share the truth with their fellow students.”

Sweetwood cited a recent Harvard-Harris poll, which showed that nearly half of 18-24-year-olds support Hamas over Israel in the war and that 32% of them do not believe that the Oct. 7 attacks occurred, which he credited to ignorance, not necessarily malice.

“It’s not just because they’re diametrically opposed to believing [they happened],” he said. “If you look at other questions, you see that a lot of them are… confused and unsure, and they are very often looking for resources. And this is just one more tool that we can offer.”

The audience for the screenings — and for Maccabee Task Force’s work in general — is not the Jewish and pro-Israel community on campus, which are not likely to need convincing that the atrocities of Oct. 7 indeed occurred.

“Part of the reason that the Israeli government was interested in coming to us to do this at scale is two-fold — one, because they desperately want to connect to college campuses in America; and two, Maccabee Task Force specifically has connections to non-Jewish groups and non-Jewish students of import, and we can mobilize those connections,” Brog said.

The exact audience makeup of each screening would be left up to the Hillels and universities to decide, if they would open it just to faculty and administrators or to students as well.

Sweetwood said MTF is working with the universities to develop a full plan for the event, which would include not only a screening of the footage but also a discussion with a survivor or another relevant figure.

“We’re going to be as sensitive about this as we possibly can,” he said.