Smoke rises from the Gaza Strip on Jan. 3, 2024. Prior to announcing the withdrawal of some troops from Gaza, Israel extended its ground offensive into densely populated neighborhoods in the central part of the territory, forcing a fresh wave of displacement to the south. Meanwhile, its aerial campaign continued apace across the territory as it seeks to destroy Hamas following the militant group’s Oct. 7 attack.(Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)
FRANKFORT — The Israeli government has invited Kentucky lawmakers and statewide office holders to a private viewing later this month of “raw footage” of Hamas militants’ attack on Israeli civilians and military, killing more than 1,200 with scores held hostage, on Oct. 7 of last year.
The email invitation sent Thursday morning to lawmakers from Anat Sultan-Dadon, the consul-general of Israel to the southeastern United States, said the 45-minute private viewing on Jan. 17 of footage compiled and released by the Israel Defense Forces was to allow “leaders to bear witness to the atrocities committed by Hamas terrorists.”
“Bearing witness to the crimes against humanity that have been committed is our shared responsibility,” Sultan-Dadon said in her email. “The video contains raw and unedited footage, including the documentation of murders and other visually disturbing scenes.”
Israeli government officials have conducted similar viewings elsewhere in the country and for other state legislatures. A group of U.S. senators had a viewing in November 2022. The surprise attack by Hamas, which the U.S. State Department considers a terrorist group, has spurred a months-long war as the Israeli military seeks to eliminate Hamas militants from the Gaza Strip.
Gaza’s health ministry has said the Palestinian death toll in the Gaza Strip is over 22,000 in almost three months of war, the most deaths seen in that short of a timeframe in the decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestinians.
Rep. Daniel Grossberg, D-Louisville, one of two Jewish members of the Kentucky legislature, said he was “honored” Israeli government officials chose the Kentucky General Assembly to have the viewing, mentioning the legislature has a pro-Israel caucus.
Grossberg said he received “unexpected” responses from other lawmakers, declining to name who specifically, to the viewing invitation. Those lawmakers, he said, expressed concerns to him about the screening being politicized, with the footage being “inflammatory and divisive” to state government leaders who can’t directly influence the conflict. He said he still believed viewing the footage is important, comparing the experience to people touring Holocaust museums.
He said he has concerns about how Israel was conducting military operations in Gaza and what Israel’s “endgame” is assuming that Hamas militants are eliminated, questions he plans to ask Israeli government officials at the viewing. But he said he believes it’s important for leaders to understand how the conflict began in October.
“I think the one thing that no one should ever question is what began the war. Why is Israel undertaking this action to begin with? And that’s going to be plainly answered by the video that we’re going to be able to watch at the briefing,” Grossberg said.
“It’s to bear witness to history. There’s nothing we can do now other than guarantee that that never happens again,” Grossberg said.
He said he was sympathetic to the loss of innocent Palestinian lives, saying that Israel needs a long-term plan beyond the conflict with Hamas.
“Even from the perspective of Israel, what they are doing now does not make sense to me if there’s no plan on how to permanently stabilize Gaza and prevent a return of Hamas or something worse,” Grossberg said.
Israel announced earlier this week it was pulling thousands of troops out of the Gaza Strip in a move that could begin a new phase of lower-intensity fighting in the area. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has repeatedly called on Israel to do more to protect Palestinian citizens.
House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, and a spokesperson for the speaker said neither were aware of the email invitation from the Israeli consul general when asked about it Thursday afternoon. A scheduler for Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams confirmed that Adams’ office had received the invitation. A spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear did not immediately return a request for comment.
Robert McCaw, the government affairs department director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, said to the Lantern it’s understandable to want to collect as much information about the conflict as possible, but he cautioned to “be wary of who’s providing it.”
“These viewings are being politicized to elicit one-sided support, while Israel is actively killing Palestinian civilians,” McCaw said. “We need a ceasefire. That is what all American politicians should be calling for.”
McCaw said Israel is conducting a “genocide” against Palestinians, citing the death toll from the Gaza health ministry.
Anat Sultan-Dadon, a consul-general of Israel, in an interview said the viewings were not about currying support for “Israel’s side of the conflict.”
“I think that on a matter in which so many have strong opinions about, I think it is crucial that leaders, and most certainly political leaders, are aware of what it is that we are facing, of what Hamas is — because it is a terror organization with a genocidal agenda, not with a political agenda,” Sultan-Dadon said.
Sultan-Dadon said Israeli officials are also organizing another separate private viewing of the footage for community leaders in Kentucky.
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