On Wednesday evening, while most of Hollywood was cheering the news that the months-long actors strike had come to an end, some 200 invited members of the industry — most of them avowed supporters of Israel — convened at the Museum of Tolerance in West LA for a screening of a film unlike any other: Bearing Witness, which comprises 43 minutes of footage of atrocities committed by Hamas terrorists against Israeli citizens on Oct. 7.
The somber gathering took place under heavy guard. Another media outlet leaked the location at which it would be taking place, resulting in threats against the museum and necessitating an FBI advance team in the days leading up to it. On Wednesday, a considerable number of LAPD officers were stationed inside the museum’s theater, out on the surrounding streets and in helicopters overhead. But in the end, there appeared to be no more than a few dozen protesters — both pro and anti-Israel — who loudly but peacefully gathered on opposite sides of Pico Boulevard, as passing cars honked their support of one side or the other.
Rumblings in town had suggested that Gal Gadot, the Israel-born star of Wonder Woman who served in the IDF years ago, was behind the event, but she was not present for it. However, her husband, Israeli film producer Jaron Varsano, was, as was the Oscar-winning Israeli filmmaker Guy Nattiv, the Oscar-nominated producer Lawrence Bender, Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz, producer Jamie Patricof, social impact agency chief Bonnie Abaunza, one of the stars of the Netflix-streaming Israeli drama series The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem, Rick Trank, the Oscar-winning documentarian who runs Moriah Films and other showbiz figures.
The proceedings — ahead of which attendees were required to sign an NDA promising not to record or recirculate the sensitive footage — kicked off with remarks from Rabbi Marvin Hier, the outgoing head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance. After noting that it was the eve of the anniversary of Kristallnacht, Hier said that experts have estimated there should be 200 million Jews in the world today, but “there are only 14 million because we are the leftovers of pogroms” like the one of Oct. 7. He labeled Hamas terrorists “the Nazis of the 21st century.”
Then, Principal Communications Group publicist Melissa Zukerman, the main organizer of the event, addressed the audience. Describing herself as a “common Hollywood flack,” she indicated that she felt compelled to do something after Oct. 7, and thanked IDF spokesperson Amnon Sheffler and former Israeli intelligence officer Sara Greenberg (who are married), for working with her to do it. “They brought this screening to life,” Zukerman acknowledged, after which Greenberg spoke about her quest to organize screenings like this one in cities across America. Greenberg lamented, “Never could I have imagined the need in my lifetime to bear witness again to the systematic murder of Jews.”
Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, spoke next, saying that he had flown in from New York “because screening this footage is of the utmost importance.” He elaborated, “It will change the way you view the Middle East and the way you view the war in Gaza,” adding that “Hamas, just like the Nazis and ISIS, view Jews as insects to be exterminated,” and that the ongoing war in Gaza is “only about ensuring that such atrocities never happen again.” He closed with a warning: “Hamas must be eradicated. This is the only way to prevent another massacre… If Israel doesn’t eradicate this evil, mark my words: the West is next.”
Last to speak before the screening was Sheffler, the IDF spokesperson, who was in uniform (he hand-delivered the DCP of the footage), and who said he had spent the weeks since Oct. 7 at the sites of the massacre and with the families of those who were killed. Of life before the attacks, he shared, “Our worst nightmare would prove to be much better than what was about to befall our nation and our people.” He then noted that the audience would be seeing “uncensored footage from the attacks” — excluding the killing of babies and the rape and sexual assault of women — that was captured on and later recovered from the body cams of Hamas terrorists, cell phones of terrorists and victims, CCTV, dash cams and the like. He emphasized, “Hamas wanted the world to know what they were doing because they were and are proud of what they were doing.” But now, he said, some were attempting to cast doubt about what had transpired — and, referencing the yelling and horn-honking that was audible through the walls of the theater, he added, “I believe we are hearing some of it right now outside.”
As was forewarned, the footage was gruesome. It depicted Israelis being ambushed, shot through windshields, beheaded with shovels, and burned alive, and it included audio of terrorists proudly parading around hostages and calling loved ones back in Gaza to boast about their misdeeds. For some, it was all too much — a number of attendees could be heard weeping, and some left the theater mid-film, unable to watch anymore. For others, it was not enough — when it ended, as Scheffler rose to speak again, several attendees marched out of the theater and shouted that viewers should not have been spared any of the atrocities that were committed so that people would know the full extent of Hamas’ evil.
But after Scheffler declared, “That is why the IDF is working to bring home the hostages and dismantle Hamas,” and following a rather superfluous video of Broadway stars singing “Bring Them Home,” most attendees simply filed out of the theater in silence.