'Don't think Jews or Christians would go in front of a mosque'

‘Antisemitic and un-American’: Biden slams anti-Israel demonstration at LA synagogue

US president leads condemnations of protest that descended into violent clashes between pro-Palestinian activists and Israel supporters in heavily Jewish neighborhood of Los Angeles

Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers clash with anti-Israel protesters gathered outside the Adas Torah Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Los Angeles, June 23, 2024. (David Swanson/CBS/AFP)

US President Joe Biden on Monday blasted a pro-Palestinian demonstration held outside a synagogue in Los Angeles over the weekend, which deteriorated into violent clashes between the anti-Israel participants and pro-Israel counter-protesters.

“I’m appalled by the scenes outside of Adas Torah synagogue in Los Angeles. Intimidating Jewish congregants is dangerous, unconscionable, antisemitic, and un-American,” read a post from Biden’s X account.

“Americans have a right to peaceful protest. But blocking access to a house of worship – and engaging in violence – is never acceptable,” he added.

Footage from Sunday showed anti-Israel demonstrators attempting to block people from entering the main entrance of Adas Torah, which was hosting a seminar about real estate in Israel. The event was organized by My Home In Israel, which markets properties in both Israel and West Bank settlements.

Dozens of people participated in the protest, many covering their faces with keffiyehs or COVID masks to conceal their identities. Demonstrators were heard chanting against Israel and “There is only one solution, intifada revolution.”

A flier for the rally organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement urged the public to “stand against settler expansion at Sunday’s real estate event selling homes to build ‘Anglo neighborhoods’ in Palestine,” circulating the synagogue’s address.

After seeing the fliers ahead of the event on social media, a group of pro-Israel activists decided to stage a counter-demonstration across the street from the anti-Israel rally.

Participants at both protests began shouting at one another before the exchange turned physical with shoving, kicking and punching seen on footage posted to social media.

Police were forced to separate the two groups and local authorities said that one arrest was made. They said the suspect had been brandishing a “spiked flag.”

Video of the clashes have spread globally, provoking outrage and denunciations of a “pogrom” in the heavily Jewish neighborhood of Pico-Robertson. While indignation over Sunday’s event has mounted, some details are still unclear — including how the clashes escalated and the identity of the arrested protester, who was released and who the LAPD said would not be identified publicly.

“Today is a dark stain in the history of Los Angeles,” local attorney Sam Yebri, a former candidate for local office, wrote in a widely circulated post. The pro-Palestinian protesters, he wrote, “brazenly terrorized Jewish Angelenos with impunity and without any consequence. These violent masked domestic terrorists bludgeoned Jews, vandalized synagogues, schools and stores, keyed cars, assaulted anyone who appeared Jewish.”

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass called the incident “abhorrent” in a statement posted on X, and wrote that she had “called on LAPD to provide additional patrols” in the neighborhood and at other local houses of worship. Governor Gavin Newsom and other elected officials also condemned the incident.

“I want to be clear that Los Angeles will not be a harbor for antisemitism and violence,” Bass wrote. “Those responsible for either will be found and held accountable.”

Gidon Katz, a producer for the Israeli real estate event, said police in Los Angeles had restricted access to a previous My Home in Israel event to combat protests but on Sunday allowed protesters to gather.

“They literally came to the door of the building, and they were very, very, very noisy, and it was pretty frightening, I must say,” Katz said Monday from the airport where he was preparing to board a flight back to Israel.

He also said he could tolerate protests of his events within bounds.

“It’s a free world. I’m not trying to avoid anyone’s First Amendment, neither the Jews nor the Palestinians. And if they want to respectfully protest, then they’ve got the right to do so,” he said. “We oppose violence and we oppose the fact that they tried to block people from coming in.”

A supporter of Israel with blood on his face after clashing with pro-Palestinian protesters blocking access to the Adas Torah Orthodox synagogue, in Los Angeles, June 23, 2024. (DAVID SWANSON / AFP)

Demonstrations against Israel, along with instances of antisemitism, have skyrocketed in the US since Hamas-led terrorists rampaged through southern Israel on October 7, killing some 1,200 people and taking 251 hostages in a devastating shock attack that triggered the war in Gaza.

Sunday’s incident was the latest in a string of violent clashes that have occurred in Los Angeles related to the Israel-Hamas war, including at the University of California, Los Angeles, which saw some of the most violent scenes during the recent wave of anti-Israel encampments at US educational institutions amid mounting accusations of antisemitic harassment against Jewish students.

Bass, who will speak at a press conference Monday afternoon at LA’s Museum of Tolerance, said she would be meeting with other elected officials and Jewish community leaders to discuss next steps. The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles sent out a statement Sunday night saying its Community Security Initiative was “monitoring the situation and working with our local law enforcement partners to make sure our community are kept safe.”

An LAPD spokesperson said he was not aware of calls for extra police protection ahead of the event. But some Jewish leaders said they felt exposed. Rabbi Hertzel Illulian, the founder of the JEM Community Center in nearby Beverly Hills, told KCAL that the violence “doesn’t belong here.”

“I don’t think the Jewish would go in front of a mosque or the Christian people would go in front of a mosque to do such a thing, nobody would accept this,” Illulian said. “But here, when it comes to Jews and Israel everything is kosher, everything is OK.”

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