More than 100 people — including Harvard affiliates, top administrators, and Israeli officials — gathered in the Harvard Art Museums’ Menschel Hall Monday evening for a screening of graphic video footage from Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
The film, titled “Bearing Witness,” was produced by the Israel Defense Force Spokesperson’s Unit and depicts roughly 45 minutes of intensely explicit GoPro, cell phone, and CCTV footage depicting acts of murder, mutilation, and other violence from the attacks.
The screening was presented by Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan and hosted by Harvard Chabad, a Jewish organization on campus.
In a speech before the screening, Erdan warned attendees of its “barbarity and cruelty — the likes of which you have never seen before.”
“Hamas’ savagery — murdering and beheading babies, raping women, burning families alive — could only be carried out because Hamas, just like the Nazis, views all Israelis, all Jews, as insects that must be exterminated,” he said.
Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi, the founder and president of Harvard Chabad, delivered opening remarks at the screening, which he said he was initially resistant to hosting.
“Reflecting on what I would describe as Holocaust-like denial of the atrocities of October 7th — a film that I thought no one should ever have to see — increasingly seems like one that everyone must see,” he said.
“It would be considered a desecration of the dead and of the living to watch this kind of violation of life — a manifestation of the divine — and the only basis for an exception is if it will help us preserve life. And it’s for that reason that we’re bringing you this evening’s program,” Zarchi told attendees.
Several top University administrators were in attendance, including Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana and University Marshal Katherine O’Dair, who also serves as chief of staff to Harvard President Claudine Gay.
Bill A. Ackman ’88, a billionaire hedge fund manager and prominent critic of the University’s response to the Oct. 7 attacks, also attended the screening and fielded questions from other attendees at its conclusion.
In the days leading up to the screening, Ackman encouraged students, faculty, and Gay to attend in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
“In life, there are moments where we are called upon to bear witness and deeply contemplate our history, our humanity, and the implications for our future. This is one of them,” he wrote.
Gay traveled to Washington earlier this week to testify in front of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce about antisemitism on college and university campuses. Ackman posted that Gay had cited the hearing as the reason that she could not attend the screening when he reached out to request her attendance.
On Monday morning the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee, a pro-Palestine student organization, posted on X that they “strongly condemn the presence of a war criminal on our campus,” referring to Erdan, the Israeli ambassador.
“Erdan travels to Harvard and the UN to conceal Israel’s murder of Palestinians and destruction of their infrastructure. By helping Israel posture as part of the ‘international community,’ he facilitates Israel’s routine and abhorrent violations of international law,” the PSC wrote in a statement on X.
Erdan declined to comment for this article but said during his speech that “Israel’s mission in Gaza is not a retaliation, is not a response to October 7th — not at all.”
“It’s only about ensuring that such atrocities never happen again,” he said.
During his remarks, Erdan condemned Harvard’s response to the initial attack and subsequent support for Jewish students.
“From the University’s initial silence following the attack, to extended silence following the pro-terror voices, and to the shameful response to the assault of Jewish students, Harvard has become dangerous for Jews,” Erdan said.
University spokesperson Jason A. Newton pointed to Gay’s testimony on Tuesday before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce about antisemitism on college campuses.
“We at Harvard reject antisemitism and denounce any trace of it on our campus or within our community,” Gay said during her testimony.
“Harvard must model what it means to preserve free expression while combating prejudice and preserving the security of our community,” Gay continued. “We are undertaking that hard, long-term work with the attention and intensity it requires.”
Outside of the screening, a group of roughly 20 demonstrators draped in Israeli flags rallied in support of Israel, chanting “Bring them home,” referring to the more than 100 Israeli hostages that remain in custody.
Rotem R. Spiegler, a 2019 graduate of Harvard Law School who grew up in Israel, said the demonstrators want people to know that “Hamas is dangerous for everyone.”
“They have one intent and it’s to destroy the Israeli country and they won’t stop,” she said. “Condemning Hamas does not mean to choose a side — it just means being on the right side of humanity.”
—Staff writer J. Sellers Hill can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on X @SellersHill.
—Staff writer John N. Peña can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on X @john_pena7.