Shortly after a deadly blast at a Gaza hospital, a pro-Israel social media influencer posted on X, formerly Twitter, that the blast was caused by an airstrike from Israel. He then deleted the post, raising suspicions among social media users about what or who caused the blast.
“Israel military leader deleted tweet saying (Israel Defense Forces) blew up the hospital,” read sticker text on an Oct. 17 TikTok video. Other videos referred to him as an Israeli spokesperson.
Some social media users framed the post as an admission by Israel that it bombed the hospital. Activist Shaun King posted that Israel “took credit” for the explosion.
“Once they saw how many civilians it killed he deleted this tweet and blamed the attack on Hamas and said Hamas bombed the hospital themselves,” King wrote on Instagram.
The person who posted, Hananya Naftali, is a pro-Israel social media influencer and writer who has worked on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s digital team, online biographies for Naftali say.
Though social media users referred to Naftali as a “military leader” or an Israeli spokesperson, we found no evidence on his social media accounts or an Israeli government list of spokespeople that he is an official spokesperson for Israel or its military. He said in an Oct. 14 Facebook video that Netanyahu assigned him to a task force to defend Israel in the media.
We contacted Naftali and Netanyahu’s press office for comment but received no response. An Israeli government spokesperson referred us to Netanyahu’s press office.
After the hospital blast, Naftali initially posted Oct. 17 on X,”BREAKING: Israeli Air Force struck a Hamas terrorist base inside a hospital in Gaza. A number of terrorists are dead,” according to social media screenshots. Naftali’s post was deleted.
He later wrote on X that he’d deleted the first post because it had inaccurate information about Israel’s involvement and had been based on a Reuters headline that later changed.
Hundreds of people were killed Oct. 17 in an explosion at a Gaza City hospital, and some news reports initially said it was the result of an Israeli airstrike, a claim Israel disputes.
Naftali’s follow-up post referred to a Reuters headline. Reuters initially wrote about the blast in an Oct. 17 article headlined, “More than 300 killed in Israeli air strike on Gaza Hospital – civil defense official.” The article’s headline was later changed to read, “In deadly day for Gaza, hospital strike kills hundreds.”
A New York Times headline read, “Israeli Airstrike Hits Gaza Hospital, Killing 500, Palestinian Health Ministry Says,” and was later changed to, “Israelis and Palestinians Blame Each Other for Blast at Gaza Hospital That Killed Hundreds.”
The New York Times also separately reported that headlines were shifting after the hospital blast, highlighting “the difficulties of reporting on a fast-moving war in which few journalists remain on the ground while claims fly freely on social media.”
Naftali describes himself on his X profile as a “media personality” and “that Israeli who talks to the camera about peace in the Middle East.” According to his online biography on The Jerusalem Post, for which he has written, Naftali is a “Israeli Jewish influencer and human rights activist.” Netanyahu hired him in 2018 as a social media adviser. The Jerusalem Post reported it is unclear whether he still has that role.
Naftali has served in the Israeli Defense Forces in the past and said Oct. 9 on X that he was recently drafted for this war. He said in that post that his wife, India Naftali, a journalist, would manage and post on his X account during his deployment.
The blast’s origin remains under investigation. Hamas blamed an Israeli airstrike; Israel blamed a failed rocket launch by the Islamic Jihad, a militant group that works with Hamas. Islamic Jihad denied the accusation and also blamed Israel, The Associated Press reported.
Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, said Oct. 18 on X that although information is still being collected, the U.S.’ current assessment is that Israel is not responsible for the hospital explosion. The council advises President Joe Biden on national security and foreign policy.
The same day, President Joe Biden said in a public appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv that, “based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team — not you. But there’s a lot of people not sure.”
PolitiFact New York Writer Jill Terreri Ramos contributed to this report.