LA authorities urge patience in investigation of Jewish pro-Israel protester’s death

Police appeal for video evidence of circumstances surrounding death of Paul Kessler, 69, of injuries sustained in possible hate crime

File - Paul Kessler protests in solidarity with Israel outside Los Angeles on November 5, 2023. (Courtesy; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)
File - Paul Kessler protests in solidarity with Israel outside Los Angeles on November 5, 2023. (Courtesy; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

Days after asking for the public’s help to determine what happened at a California protest that resulted in a Jewish demonstrator’s death, authorities said Thursday they still have no video of the incident and are urging patience as they investigate.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department asked anyone who may have been driving a car equipped with cameras near the intersection where the protest occurred to reach out and share video content.

“Currently, we do not have any footage of the actual incident taking place, which would be extremely helpful in this case and would undoubtedly show or could even refute criminal culpability,” the department said in a statement.

Paul Kessler, 69, died early Monday at a hospital after he was purportedly struck on the head with a megaphone by a pro-Palestinian protester during a Sunday altercation at dueling rallies on the Israel-Hamas war on Sunday in Thousand Oaks, a suburb northwest of Los Angeles. Sheriff Jim Fryhoff said Tuesday that deputies determined Kessler had fallen backward and struck his head on the ground.

The pro-Palestinian demonstrator stayed at the scene and told deputies he had called 911, Fryhoff said.

Officials have said investigators were getting conflicting information from witnesses on both sides about what took place before the fall and had not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime. No arrests have been made.

“Witnesses with conflicting statements impair witness credibility, create reasonable doubt, cause unreliable testimony, and strain a prosecutor’s ability to prove a case,” Thursday’s statement said. Investigators urged anyone who was at the protest to come forward.

Elena Colomba draws a Star of David at a Thousand Oaks, California, street corner where a Jewish pro-Israel protester, Paul Kessler, was killed during an altercation, November 7, 2023. (Jacob Gurvis/JTA)

Kessler was among a group of pro-Israel demonstrators who showed up at the event that was advertised as a peaceful gathering to support Palestinians. About 75 people in total were there and patrols in the area reported seeing no indication of violence 15 minutes before the altercation happened, officials said.

Demonstrations have been widespread and tensions are escalating in the United States, with 75 percent of American Jews reporting in a new poll that they are either very or somewhat concerned about safety and security inside their communities as the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza enters its second month.

The war was triggered on October 7, when some 3,000 Hamas terrorists stormed into Israel via the destroyed Gaza border fence, unleashing a massacre in southern Israel. The terror group killed some 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and took at least 245 hostages.

Israel vowed to destroy Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, and launched an operation carried out by air and on the ground. The Gaza health ministry has reported more than 10,000 deaths since October 7, but the numbers cannot be independently verified and are thought to include the terror group’s own members, as well as civilians killed by misfired rockets.

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