(JTA) – Fistfights broke out Wednesday night outside a Holocaust museum in Los Angeles that was screening footage of Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre of Israelis after pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrated against what they said was a “Gal Gadot military propaganda video.”
Several people were reportedly pepper-sprayed and detained by police following the Museum of Tolerance screening of “Bearing Witness,” a 45-minute compilation of footage largely from cameras carried by Hamas terrorists when they attacked Israeli civilians on Oct. 7. About 1,400 Israelis died in the attack and about 250 were taken hostage in Gaza, which Israel has invaded with a stated goal of demolishing Hamas.
An LAPD helicopter reportedly circulated overhead and ordered protesters to disperse. In footage of the confrontations circulating online, pro-Israel protesters sexually harassed a Jewish woman who demonstrated with pro-Palestinian protesters and accused her of being “Arab.”
The clash came days after a Jewish man in Los Angeles died after an altercation with a pro-Palestinian protester at a rally, the first known incident of a death in the United States related to protests around Israel. Police said they had identified a suspect but had not yet made any arrests in that case.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass denounced the violence. “We cannot allow current worldwide tension to devolve into this unacceptable violence in our city,” she tweeted late Thursday. “This is a time of immense pain and distress for thousands of Angelenos. We must stand together.”
The film being shown, whose title is frequently used in Holocaust discourse, was first compiled by the Israel Defense Forces and screened for foreign journalists covering the ongoing Israel-Hamas war and siege of Gaza. The IDF said it undertook the step to prove that the Hamas atrocities had actually happened amid a rising tide of denial.
Critics of Israel’s war in Gaza say the film is being used to justify ongoing bombings there that some of them say is causing a “genocide.” The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says more than 10,000 people have been killed; it does not differentiate between civilians and Hamas fighters and does not denote deaths from misfired Palestinian rockets.
The film has since made its way to the United States with the backing of some Jewish and Israeli entertainment industry leaders, including Gadot, whose reported involvement in Wednesday’s screening had been seized on by pro-Palestinian protesters online.
Dubbing the screening a “Gal Gadot military propaganda video” and a “Zionist trap,” some left-wing social media users encouraged non-Jewish protesters to stay away from the protest to avoid being labeled as antisemitic. A screening in New York earlier in the week passed without incident.
Gadot was not present at the Museum of Tolerance screening for around 200 industry professionals, though her husband, Israeli film producer Jaron Varsano, was. The screening was invitation-only, with industry reports deeming it the town’s hottest ticket, and its location was obscured from public view out of security concerns.
“You have a film that is being shown at a time when people are calling for a ceasefire,” one protester told the Los Angeles Times. “The screening is only for a few privileged people and it doesn’t lead to conversation.”
According to the Hollywood Reporter, several other notable Jewish and Israeli industry executives were present at the screening, including “Golda” director Guy Nattiv (who also helped organize it); “Pulp Fiction” producer Lawrence Bender; and Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz, who shepherded this year’s smash-hit “Barbie” movie.
Melissa Zukerman, a Hollywood publicist, identified herself as the main organizer at the screening and thanked a former IDF spokesperson for helping it come together. Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, also spoke, as did Rabbi Marvin Hier, longtime head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which oversees the museum.